Thanks for the memories;School management

12th June 1998 at 01:00
As the Government reviews ways to strengthen home-school partnerships, one mother, Esther Read, looks back at some of the successes at her son's primary school

It was bad enough when my son started school. This was my baby and there he was stepping out into the big, wide world. For five years I had complained about the restrictions of having a toddler. Now all I could remember was our mutual joy in discovering dinosaurs, hours spent experimenting with playdough and endless choruses of "The Wheels on the Bus".

Still, the sight of all those other tear-stained mums at least reassured me that this was one of those rites of passage things. No doubt I'd emerge stronger and wiser. No one warned me it would happen again - when my son finally graduated from primary to secondary school.

This too was the end of an era - 11 years all told, during which the school had become a focus not just for the children but for all of us. I was going to miss it.

So what were the things which made "home-school partnership" more than just an empty phrase?

We got off to a good start. With the children attending for only half a day, parents were invited to come along, in groups, for one of the "free" afternoons to help prepare workbooks for the class.

The atmosphere was informal. Younger children were welcome. Tea, juice and biscuits were available. There was a chance to get to know the teacher and the parents of some of the other children in the class.

Quite naturally, as we stamped out the various workbooks, we talked about the work the children would be doing. There were no lectures about how we could assist our children's learning. It was simply being revealed to us in response to our questions.

Looking back, it was opportunities like this which were always the most useful - far, far more useful than the ritual parent interview. From time to time I'd be invited to join the teacher in the class to help the children bake or read or complete a special project. Then there was the time the children themselves held open house and escorted parents round the classroom, explaining to them all the work they'd been doing. And, of course, there were the school trips and the concerts.

So often we speak as though it's what children learn that matters most. In fact, the context in which they learn is of equal importance. One teacher scared my daughter half to death.

Yet, based on my observation of him at work, I had no doubt he was good for the class as a whole. A lively bunch would be the most diplomatic way of summing them up. Knowing this, it was possible to explain to my daughter that the teacher wasn't getting at her personally and to alert him to the fact that our daughter was in danger of taking things too much to heart. Lacking an understanding of the context, we might well have gone up to the school to complain, quite unjustifiably.

My four years' involvement on the school board was nowhere near as helpful to me personally (and, sadly, even less helpful to parents generally) than those personal contacts with the children and the staff. What alarms me now is how soon they have begun to read like an idyll from some bygone age.

Even in the four-year gap between my daughter and son starting school, the workbook group was reduced to just two of us. Most of the other mums and dads were at work . Even I was only there because I worked from home and could set my own timetable.

If the present Government is serious about promoting home-school partnership, I'd suggest that they forget paper contracts and legislate for a few days' parental leave per year. Then one parent or the other could take an active part in the community that is their local school.

On the basis of our experience, such a "performance target" would be one of the most effective ways of creating a climate of co-operation and mutual support.

To the staff of Kinloch Primary who achieved precisely that, I'd just like to say - thanks for the memories.

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