Schools must continue to reach out to parents, the wider local community, other professionals and schools in this country and abroad, advises Sir Tim Brighouse
It is important that we summon up the strength and determination to learn from and develop our work, despite the temptation to ‘pull up the drawbridge’ as the extra stimulus resources for ‘extended school’ and other work beyond school walls and the curriculum dry up in the decade of austerity that we are threatened lies ahead.
So it’s timely to be reminded of inspiring examples that show what’s possible when determined and committed school leaders decide that more children will develop more of their potential, if schools are to resist the temptation to turn independence to isolation.
Of course work of this sort is not entirely new and is the product of the last decade of expanded resources and creative ideas. Almost 100 ago, the pioneering work of Henry Morris in the Cambridgeshire Village Colleges started the trend. But their efforts and those of others who embraced the ‘community’ school did not have a large following and the movement has waxed and waned as one political fad has given way to another. So the advent of the national curriculum and local management of schools in 1988/9 and the increased autonomy of schools put an end to Local Authority – in those days the LEA – led community schools.
Schools resembled prisons
It is not so long ago that schools in inner-city areas had broken glass embedded on the top of their walls and “No parents beyond this point” signs just inside their gates. Schools resembled prisons. Even their rural counterparts were set well back in their grounds with grass moats, their gate bridged by the drive to the front door – also with discouraging notices to warn off any intrepid invader.
Schools were like well-guarded islands where witch doctors – teachers – did their stuff and we all hoped our children would emerge from the mysterious process reasonably unscathed. That world has thankfully gone, and schools are finding all sorts of new ways of connecting to the world beyond the school.
Apart from the need to avoid isolation there are three reasons for schools to look outwards at this time:
- At a time of contracted resources, staff’s continuous professional development is crucial. By reading the Mayer-Johnson Making a Difference... to the whole School Community BETT 2010 booklets and then forming alliances with other schools, teachers and support staff will keep alive that sense of intellectual curiosity and energy which is so vital to the success of their pupils’ learning.
- No school alone can meet all the needs of all their children. By working with others they increase the odds of being able to ‘unlock the minds and open the shut hearts’ of more of their pupils and therefore change their pupils’ life chances for the better.
- Pupils are in school between birth and the age of 16 for only 15 per cent of their waking time; 85 per cent is spent in the home or the community. Schools can influence that time and do so most effectively when ‘extended’ or ‘community’ schools work well. Work with parents and carers – a school’s partners in learning – is vital to all schools and the most under-researched of all the processes of school improvement.
If reading this prompts you into some creative variation of ideas discovered here it will have served its purpose. Enjoy.
Sir Tim Brighouse is the former commissioner for London schools, co-chair of the 21st Century Learning Alliance and a non-executive director of education services company RM.
Tim’s article was written for publication in the new ‘Making a Difference to... the Whole School Community’ programme which will be providing insight and support to schools on the three key challenges of Inclusion, EAL and Literacy Development. Sponsored by Mayer-Johnson, you can register to receive the booklets, including articles and experiences from schools, advisers, educationalists and professionals on each of the three key challenges by going to www.mayer-johnson.co.uk/wsc or visit the ‘Whole School Community’ interactive website at www.mayer-johnson.co.uk/community to get loads more ideas.