Where parents restart learning

20th June 1997 at 01:00
Manchester, often at loggerheads with the previous government, has unveiled its plans for a new era. Nicolas Barnard reports.

In the anonymous sprawl of the Wythenshawe council estate on Manchester's southern edge, parents are queueing up to get into Marsha Grime's reception classes.

The class of 60 at Newall Green infants can easily have more than 100 bodies in it as mums and dads read, play and work with their children.

The success of the Partnership with Parents initiative run by the school and the city's adult education service is staggering. Nine out of 10 parents participate at some level, at least half taking a basic parenting course, and a quarter taking accredited courses, often leading to further study.

It puts into practice the concept of parents as co-educators. Close links are formed with parents when their children start at age two or three. And with so many parents being in their late teens or early twenties, school is an ideal place to encourage them into further education.

Proof of success lies in the results. In six years, the number of pupils gaining level two in national curriculum tests has jumped from 52 per cent to 78 per cent in reading and soared from 35 per cent to 82 per cent in maths.

"What comes across is the spirit of hope people have in their children, " Mrs Grime says.

At nearby Newall Green high, headteacher Barry Morrison is more concerned with school-leavers than beginners. But he has the same determination to forge links beyond the classroom.

In one of a number of Mancunian initiatives which provide strong role models for youngsters, the school has joined Manchester University to give 50 Year 9 pupils a taste of higher education. And it is one of two high schools setting up a satellite campus of Manchester College of Art and Technology to persuade 16-year-olds to stay on - for too many, the city centre colleges seem too remote.

Wythenshawe has been particularly vulnerable to poaching by the grammar schools of Trafford, the authority which surrounds the estate. But Mr Morrison's school is oversubscribed.

The number of pupils leaving with five A-Cs at GCSE has quadrupled over the past few years. But what really makes Mr Morrison proud is the number leaving with five A-Gs: 100 per cent. No one is left behind in the race to climb the league tables.

Pockets of good practice exist across Manchester: the "bad boy" high school with plummeting black exclusions thanks to its mentoring scheme or the primary schools piloting one-stop social services, housing and health centres for parents. Manchester's new vision is to see them spread.

Mr Morrison believes it will also empower schools to hold the authority to account.

"We can now say 'This is the Manchester dream' and with this shopping list we can prioritise what we do.

"Launching it opens it up to the community."

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