As part of a nationwide drive to push up standards of literacy and numeracy, schools are not just boosting the skills of their students - increasingly, they are involving parents too, as EMMA MACKINTOSH reports.
FOR those of us who made our way through the pre-noughties Welsh education system, or even that of five or 10 years ago, our experiences will inevitably be different to that of the current generation of school children, who are in the middle of a Welsh government drive to push up standards in literacy and numeracy.
You might think the most fundamental difference is that this generation have never known a time without the internet, without smart phones or tablets.
But with so many incremental government changes to our education system in recent years (much to the chagrin of some campaigners) and current plans to develop a unique curriculum specifically for Wales, the way in which core subjects like maths and English are taught now will inevitably be different from the way the previous generation (or two, or three) were taught.
It’s not immediately obvious: if a child needs help with their maths homework, why, maths is either right or wrong, surely?
But despite the best intentions, teaching a child a new way of solving an equation which is different from the one they’ve learned in school could end up confusing them even more.
Equally, some of the content in today’s syllabus may not have been taught in the past – which means parents or carers couldn’t help even if they wanted to.
This is where schools are taking steps to encourage parents and carers to come along to after-school sessions and community events, to help them to engage not only in school life but the very things their children are learning on the curriculum.
Of course, trying to balance work, family and after-school sessions is far from easy, especially if you live towards the edge of your child’s catchment area.
This is why sessions like those organised by Newport’s Duffryn High School take place every Wednesday in the community itself, at the old library in Pill where many students and their families live.
“In the evenings we go over how you can work with your child in English and maths, the heads of English and maths show them what the course is and what the demands will be, and simple techniques of how they can help their child,” explained Duffryn head teacher Jon Wilson, whose school was recently praised by the inspectorate Estyn for its high percentage of ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ lessons.
“It’s about the importance of consistency and learning how school teaches things rather than what was taught in the past. The teachers do it because they think it should be done.”
Around 19 students attended the first session but numbers have now grown to around 40 students coming along from Years 9, 10 and 11. Despite its popularity among the students, the numbers of parents attending has dropped off, said acting deputy head Neil Davies.
“We had parents come along but some felt maybe their child would be more comfortable if they weren’t there, or they might come along but they might not want to stay,” he said.
“We are looking at how we can engage our parents, maybe by sitting them in separate rooms? That’s the next big step for us, as well as targeting parts of the community where we are not getting them into school.”
The sessions have received Communities First funding and staff are happy to accept students from other schools if they wish to attend, said Mr Davies, who is working on a new project with Nash College where Year 10 pupils can go along one day a week to learn fabricating and welding.
Schools are not just targeting parents through academic routes. Newport’s St Julian’s School has organised a “big lunch” on July 4 this year, paid for by its Parental Engagement Fund from Welsh government.
The school, which also runs parental classes in maths and English, hopes that by encouraging parents to come into school – as well as saying “thank you” to local businesses and residents who’ve helped or engaged with the school recently – this may drive up attendance among the pupils and encourage parents to pop along to parents evenings as well.
It all ties in with a Welsh government initiative called “Education begins at home”, which began last month, and encourages parents to wake their child early for school, make sure they get a good night’s sleep, make time to read with them, going to parents evenings and asking them about school in order to help them do better at school.
Assistant head teacher at St Julian’s, Ian Cole said: “This is about opening our doors for people to come in and see us, to build strong relationships with the parents and the community.”
So if the idea of going back to school fills you with dread, fear not: there could be a more relaxed, community-based alternative already set up by your child’s school.