Partnership in action

20th June 2003 at 01:00
Parents working and learning with their children is an intrinsic part of daily life at St John's. According to Gloria Gott, headteacher for the past 18 years, their involvement is strongly focused on education. St John's, she said, is not a drop-in centre; parents are there to interact in learning with their own and other people's children, and to further their own education.

St John's is sandwiched between two local authority housing estates, Holme Wood and Bierley in south Bradford, an area of socio-economic disadvantage.

Many children enter nursery with language,personal and social skills well below the average for their age, one third are on the special needs register and there is a 20 per cent mobility rate.

But the "outstanding education" St John's provides to all its pupils, according to Ofsted, its "inspirational leadership" and "outstanding partnership with parents" mean that by the time children leave at 11, they are scoring at the national average in attainment and well above the national average for similar schools.

The maths-and-magic day marks the beginning of a series of family curriculum days that will enhance a range of existing activities involving parents. Hilary Finnigan, a retired teacher, is employed as a Family Link manager for 20 hours each week. She oversees a host of initiatives with a clear educational focus, planned with senior staff on an annual basis.

A family numeracy project ran for a whole year, involving 15 sets of parents working alongside 15 children. "We identified parents and children who would benefit from this," said Mrs Gott. "They worked separately for part of each session, parents with a tutor, children with their teacher, and then together for the rest. Many of our parents have not had a positive experience of school and so we have to work hard to break down barriers."

The school also runs a Fast Track Club for parents and children in Year 1 who are struggling with the national curriculum. An early years teacher provides models of practice for parents - for example, in reading stories to their children. St John's also provides homework packs with games and activities for parents to share with children at home. In school, parents act as reading and number partners for children, make story sacks and manage a jigsaw library. There are on-site courses for classroom assistants and creche workers in first aid, ICT, and people's rights under the law, and basic skills courses for parents provided by Bradford College.

The school also employs a counsellor for 20 hours a week with education action zone funding and sponsorship from Dixons. "Depressed children do not learn," said Mrs Gott. However, she added that she "could not ask" for more supportive families: "The perception that parents who are poor are not interested in their children's education is a fallacy. I was brought up on a council estate and though my parents didn't engage in school life because they were frightened and under-confident, they were always behind me and always wanted me to do well. I know that education is the route out of poverty. That's why I am here. I wanted to put something back."

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