The parents at Our Lady’s Catholic High School in Fulwood are invited to take part in a range of popular parental engagement courses.
Parents at our school have never had a problem with calling to tell us if their children were having difficulties with their studies. “Peter’s no good at maths. He can’t do his homework so you’ll need to do something different to make him understand.”
But today, the mums and dads ring up with a new confidence and a new attitude. “Peter’s having difficulty with his fractions and I haven’t been able to work through them with him, can you suggest a way in which I might be able to help him?”
We are now a team. Parents are familiar with the curriculum and its targets, and are looking to get alongside the teachers in helping children develop skills and fulfil their potential.
This sea change has come about through running maths classes for parents of Year 7 children, in a scheme of activities called Parental Engagement.
We realised that the move to secondary school can often be a difficult one. Parents no longer wait at the school gate ready to hear all about the day’s activities in the walk home, and children are too busy or self-absorbed to chat about all they are experiencing. In addition, techniques in teaching maths have changed radically and most parents are bewildered by the concepts of ‘chunking’, ‘number line’, ‘grid multiplication’, and so on.
Through Parental Engagement evenings we provide an opportunity for parents to learn a new skill as well as, hopefully, recapturing some of the contact lost in the move to high school. So alongside digital photography classes, there are maths classes.
We introduced Parental Engagement evenings at our first parents evening of the school year. This is always very well attended – around 95 per cent of all parents of Year 7 come along. It is their first real meeting at secondary school and we really get their attention. We market it as an information evening, a chance to meet the teachers and find out how we will report on the progress of their children at school.
Parents are told about the parents evening by letter, and this time we sent a separate letter to our target audience inviting them to come along to the maths department half an hour earlier.
We’d discovered in our pilot scheme the previous year that if you offer maths classes generally, then the people who are the keenest are those who don’t really have a problem and whose children are already progressing well. We wanted to reach the families where the children were struggling, and hadn’t reached level four at Key Stage Two. We made a strong sales pitch to this group telling them that, while there are a lot of classes to choose from, coming along to the maths evenings would really help them and their children. Of the 30 parents we approached, most signed up.
Opening up the classes to the rest of the year group meant that we had 45 parents interested in attending so we ran the course twice. Each course had two sessions, each lasting two and a half hours.
We wanted to achieve two things: to explain the changes in numeracy in primary school and how we were building on them, and to show parents how they can help children at home when they get stuck. And we wanted to do all this in a way that was light and enjoyable.
We explained the new methods of doing maths so that parents were no longer contradicting their child’s learning, but helping them by using the same methods that they were being taught in school. We gave the parents gap tasks to work on with their children at home.
We subscribe to MyMaths and set it up so that parents could help the children practise online outside the classroom, making progress on their own. We also encouraged them to use our Virtual Learning Environment, Moodle, watching video clips explaining different problems. “We didn’t have any of this when I was at school.”
We got great feedback from parents: they just wanted more! Three sessions rather than two, they suggested. What about something on angles and shapes? A refresher course, and help in Year 8, they asked, or a GCSE course to help them improve their own maths skills. As I was the only teacher running the course, I was very excited but quickly realised the limits.
The priority will be not losing these parents in Year 8 and I will have another teacher helping me run classes for parents of the two year groups now. We will also offer a term’s foundation course for GCSE through distance learning on VLE.
As for the children – we tracked the pupils who didn’t have level four at Key Stage 3. There are always some who don’t catch up but all of them had made progress and this was something we wanted to share with the parents.
We wanted to keep the dialogue open with the parents and we asked them whether they would encourage other parents to take part. Yes, they said, it was fun, extremely helpful, inspiring and “not to be missed”!
Mary Tuson, Principal Teacher of Mathematics
Our Lady’s Catholic High School, Fulwood, Lancashire.