Fitzharry's gets the chemistry right

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The Independent Online
In the science laboratory of Fitzharry's School, a comprehensive in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, a class of 40 is preparing for the next lesson. But the time is 7pm and about half the class is made up of parents.

"I think most of you will know how to use a Bunsen burner, but if anyone is really worried about handling a practical task just shout," says Sue Raynor, the chemistry teacher. With good humour, if not overly confident, the class sets about its assignment of producing from a mixture of chemicals three samples of salt, iron filings and cork.

The science workshop is part of a two-year project run jointly by Fitzharry's and its feeder primary school Rush Common and funded by the Royal Society of Arts. Directed at pupils and their parents from the top year of the primary school and the first year of secondary, its aim is twofold: to encourage parents to continue to be as involved at Fitzharry's as they were at Rush Common, and to help the children make the difficult transition from one school to the next.

The project is now in its second year and there have been evening workshops in music, art and computing, as well as social events organised by the parents. This year's science class is better attended than last year's, according to Gillian Thomas, a teacher at Rush Common - a sign that the hard work is beginning to pay off.

"This is a great idea," says Bob Anderson, at work with his son Paul, aged 12. "If more parents took an interest in their child's education, it would encourage children to see it as important."

Whereas Rush Common Schools enjoys a particularly high level of parental support, with several helpers every day in each class, at Fitzharry's support has been "fairly minimal", says Malcolm Wright, the deputy head. "Parents will do things like run the school fete, but we're trying to get them much closer to the classroom."

He would like to find ways of involving parents in lessons, although some staff are not keen on the idea, finding it threatening to have other adults watching while they are teaching.

"It's really good to have parents coming into school, so they are not just faces," says Ms Raynor, positively radiant by the end of her lesson. "An evening like this makes you feel you're in the right job after all."