Aims of the ‘club’ – To develop home/school links and develop/enhance parental awareness of the opportunities to practice maths skills in every day life
Our ultimate aim is to work in partnership with parents in developing an understanding that maths can be fun! We want to dispel the fears that surround mathematics and develop a can do culture within the wider community. We aim to be able to say about our school that all learners (including parents) succeed in mathematics.
The school’s objective for the whole school community is that every learner and family regardless of ability, race, gender and background have the opportunity to take maths into their homes and have fun.
Context of the School
St James’ CE Primary School has a very strong ethos of care within the school community.
Around 75% of pupils are from hard pressed family backgrounds as evident from the ACORN data.
Overall the attainment upon entering in foundation stage is well below the national average in all areas.
In 2007/2008 the end of KS2 results for mathematics were 61% level 4+.
In 2008/2009 results improved, with 83% of our children achieving level 4+ in mathematics.
In 2009/2010 we were targeted for support from the Improving Schools Programme (ISP) and the Greater Manchester Challenge (GMC) programme.
What we have done
General parental support in mathematics was poor. Many parents seemed interested in reports on progress, but were accepting of reports of poor progress in mathematics; as if they almost expect this particular area of the curriculum to be the most challenging and least enjoyable. Where progress was good to excellent, parents acted surprised and the general comment would be ‘They don’t get it from me. I am awful at maths’.
It soon became evident that in order to develop parental involvement/support in mathematics we first needed to raise the awareness of every day maths skills within the community. We began by bidding for funding to establish a ‘Let’s get cooking club’, with the intention of involving targeted parents/grand parents in the running of the club. This worked well for all children throughout the school and one grand-parent. All children have had access to a ten-week cookery course in which they have developed and enhanced mathematical skills in a fun and rewarding context. The grand-parent involved has realised she has, through her work as cake maker, developed numerous mental skills which she has enjoyed discussing and sharing with the children for example: mental conversion, times table knowledge, estimation, halving, doubling etc.
We reviewed the cookery club success and realised however we needed to involve more adults. We decided to access funding from a local ‘Dragon’s Den charity’ for a gardening club, in the hope of attracting dads and granddads. Once again the club became well established but relied on the commitment of staff members and one grandma. All children in school have the opportunity to attend the club on a ten-week rota. The club has provided all with the opportunity to develop/enhance their skills in measure, shape & space, data handling, time etc whilst providing a crop for the cookery club.
On review of both successful clubs we realised we were still not meeting our initial aims and objectives.
Involvement in the GMC enabled us to access funding. I decided to contact the ‘Happy Puzzle Company’ and book a games day, which involved one of their representatives providing 35-minute interactive games sessions for each year group. I asked all teachers and teaching assistants to attend the sessions, observe the children playing the games and then put together a wish list of games that in their opinion engaged the children and promoted mathematical discussion and skill development.
I also asked a member of our professional enquiry group to observe and give his opinion on the value of each game in his role of a mathematician and grandparent.
The next step was to order a bank of games from the wish list using our funding. Fifty-two games arrived. (we ensured we had an agreement that any parts lost from games would be replaced free of charge.)
One teaching assistant and one member of staff were targeted to help with the formation of the club, as they had very good relationships with parents who we knew had low self-esteem regarding mathematical ability which was impacting on their expectations of their children. The staff members personally invited the parents to ‘help’ them in opening and numbering the games. The ‘maths’ word was never mentioned at this stage. The two members of staff were released for a morning per week (that suited the target parents), tea and biscuits were provided and the general aim of the first few sessions was to allow the adults to play the games in a safe and informal environment (have fun). The parents together with staff rated each game for level of difficulty and discussed the reasons why some were more difficult than others. It soon became apparent that fractions, percentage, times table knowledge and shape were areas for development. Through discussion parents and staff shared easy ways to remember maths facts, work out percentages, and recognise/name shapes. Laughter rang from the room and screams of frustration filled the air, but we were talking maths with adults who feared the subject!
Funding to release the teacher soon ran out. We now needed additional help as the group was not ready to run alone. We accessed a small pot of funding from the NCETM, with which we bought in the services of one of their ambassadors. She would help with the organisation of the club, for example: helping parents to set up a system for loaning out the games, recording games out and in, producing flyers to promote the club, letters to request games returned, user friendly evaluation sheets and the rewriting of some instructions to enable easy access to all. The involvement and formality of the ambassador frightened parents away and the group collapsed!
The school’s NCETM representative suggested an alternative way of accessing funding which would fund the release of the two initial members of staff. We were successful in accessing the funding and the group was re-established. We took onboard all of the good practice/ideas the ambassador had suggested and established a ‘games library’. The library was initially only accessible to the targeted parents, but after four weeks we felt we were ready to engage more parents. We were running a successful coffee morning/fund raising event every half term at which we attracted many of our parents and wider community members. We decided this would be the most productive environment to introduce the games. We invited the target parents and children to set up an area in the school hall were they could be seen playing the games. As the morning progressed other children and parents and grandparents were seen to be enjoying the games. We took the opportunity to invite any parent to borrow a game (without charge) on the understanding that they take responsibility for its upkeep and return the following week.
Fifty-two games went out on that day; I was worried sick that none would return after spending £700 of funding on them. The following week 52 returned with all parts in place (phew!).
The teaching assistant who had been involved with the group/club from the beginning took over the running of the club (funded through our links with the NCETM) in partnership with me. She collected in and checked games on a Tuesday afternoon between 3.30pm and 4pm and loaned out games on a Friday afternoon between 3.30pm and 4pm. She recruited a volunteer parent to support , who saw the games as a way of developing her more able sons in their application of mathematics. The initial group of parents continued to support school through the use of the games and their willingness to support their children in mathematics e.g. completing homework and discussing appropriate written and mental calculations.
Two of our targeted parents went on to do their level 1 and 2 in maths and another has volunteered in school in order to learn more about how we teach maths.
We have changed the way in which we engage children and parents in the club as changes to the time table, use of the hall, other clubs etc do impact on its uptake. However we find if we are flexible to the needs of the children parents and school, we continue to be successful in achieving our aim of working in partnership with parents in developing an understanding that maths can be fun and in dispelling the fears that surround mathematics. Our teaching strategies and the use of the games within the classroom on a weekly rota basis have promoted a ‘can do’ culture, whilst encouraging our more able children to take risks and enabling all of our children, regardless of ability, to enjoy mathematical success.
The games have become a fun and important part of our mathematics teaching. We have recently ordered 40 more to meet demands. The order was put in by our super teaching assistant who is one hundred percent committed to the idea that maths is fun and can be enjoyed by all.
We have also recently ordered literacy games and have plans for developing a literacy library/games club to promote reading and spelling skills and enjoyment.
I have learnt that empowerment of others has the greatest reward and provides the capacity needed for successful sustainability. For example: facilitating the development of the initial teacher and teaching assistant lead to them sharing their enthusiasm, knowledge and passion with targeted parents and grandparents, who then felt empowered enough to support their children and other adults.
Planning for successful change must be flexible and time for reflection must be built into the plan.
I as leader simply identified a need that needed serving and accessed the funding needed to serve that need – parental involvement in mathematics.