Gillian Britten, Family Learning Coordinator at Yale College, Wrexham, writes of her involvement in a Family Numeracy Day supported by the Basic Skills Agency’s Local Promotion Funding, which provides grants of varying sizes to local basic skills initiatives. The Soccer Sensation Family Numeracy day was one of the grants given out in conjunction with the Agency’s Numbers Count campaign, launched in February 2006 as part of the Welsh Assembly Government’s Basic Skills Strategy.
Part of my brief as Family Learning Co-ordinator is to be pro-active in including those families, commonly referred to as ‘hard to reach’, in Family Learning. Most practitioners will appreciate what an extraordinarily difficult task this is, when funding for networking is so limited.
The ‘hard to reach’ target group in this instance were the families of Year 5-7 children, living in Community First areas, who do not normally take part in any sort of community or out of school activities. I was particularly interested to see if I could attract fathers, both to engage with their children’s learning whilst at the same time to consider improving their own skills. A seemingly tall order I know! Something to do with sport seemed the probable way forward and it sat easily alongside the LEA’s commitment to improving the level of local children’s fitness and nutrition. In Wrexham, soccer was the obvious choice.
In order to gain the most from the project, the Lifelong Librarian from Wrexham Library, the Healthy Schools Co-ordinator, three Communities First schools and Football in the Community based at Wrexham Football Club were all involved. Realising that the Basic Skills Agency’s ‘Numbers Count’ campaign, was to follow soon after, so it made sense that the chosen focus of the work should be numeracy. The event took place at Wrexham Football Club (WFC) on a home match Saturday. The size of the room at the Club meant that places were limited to 15 families. Soccer Sensation was sold as a Family Fun Day. Schools targeted their most needy families and five from each school were allocated places, on a first come first served basis. 43 adults and children attended in total.
Maths kit bag
Each family was given a kit-bag containing the ‘tools for the job’ – a calculator, pencil case, ruler, maths set, notebook, disposable camera, information about the various local sports activities/clubs for children and an activity book to complete at home. On the day, each family was considered a team, with the parent as manager. The teams were randomly allocated a place in the green or blue league on arrival. Throughout the day, staff awarded points for good listening (to the staff and manager’s instructions), good team work, positive attitude, effort and on the completion of a series of tasks and quizzes.
By the end of the day, both leagues had completed a tour of the football ground, the maths trail, played a range of number games based on probability, handling data, money and shape and space, took part in fitness tests set by the Ladies Soccer Co-ordinator, tried at least six new fruits and completed the healthy eating quiz with the Healthy Schools Co-ordinator, took part in an hour’s soccer skills training with the Club coach, all of which earned them free tickets to watch the Wrexham match. The consistent message throughout the day was:
“Maths is everywhere. You need to work hard at maths, especially if you want to be an ace footballer.”
A message later reiterated by the WFC official who presented medals to everyone before the main match.
Whilst the children took part in the soccer skills training, the adults had the chance to look at the range of soccer games, DVDs and books available at the library. An encouraging number of the families joined on the day. Yale promoted local basic skills classes on the back of the changing style of maths teaching:
“Since you were at school, so much has changed. How confident are you about helping your child with maths the way it’s done now?”
The parents talked about their own experiences of maths at school and looked through the activity book. They were shown where to find the answers. In the front of the parents’ answer book were several callouts such as:
“Did you need to use a calculator?”
“Was it hard to work out the angles of the penalty shots?”
“If the answer is yes to any of these questions, why not brush up your own maths skills and become more confident about helping your children?”
It was a very successful day. Teachers confirmed the positive feedback taken on the day, at follow up school visits the following week. Twelve out of fifteen families completed the activity books, and prizes were duly awarded. The parents’ feedback gave some very useful insights. Typically comments included:
“If you’d said it was going to be maths, you’d never have got me over the door, but it’s been really good.”
“It’s really made me think. It’s like what them coaches said about getting yer head down and towing the line. I hope it’s made me lad think too.”
“I don’t go out much with the kids, what with work and that. I was dreading it, but the missus made me come. I didn’t know how they’d be like, but they’ve bin great, no messing about or anything. It’s been good. Thanks.”
This has been a significant personal learning curve confirming my faith in creative, ‘out of the box’ thinking. Yes, it’s challenging, hard work, but the rewards are significant. The contacts made in the community are invaluable and the power of inter-agency working has been proved. Football in the Community provided the perfect vehicle for the numeracy work that took place. We were all apprehensive at different times throughout the planning, but the day was to prove that it was all worthwhile.
On-going work as a direct result of the day
Three Soccer Sensation mothers have since been in touch asking for some informal help in using the 123 packs at a parents’ group in one school. There have been several individual enquiries about a follow up Soccer Sensation during the Easter holidays. One school has made enquiries about running a similar event at school. Schools in the other Communities First areas are asking for something similar to take place in their localities.
If the context of the work is appropriate, the activity is relevant, fun and meaningful, then take the risk and go for it. The ‘hard to reach’ in this instance could be reached.