Schools compensating for society

It seems that overall educational achievement is being increasingly threatened in the UK by external factors, ranging from lack of family support, poverty and health.

Politicians find it easy to blame schools for the apparent drop in standards of literacy and numeracy – this is no help. The real answer lies in providing greater support for families. Schools have the capability to do this but lack the capacity. They are shackled to a unforgiving performance regime.

If we could free up schools and fund them to support families, we could make a difference. Schools could co-ordinate local care and health services to provide guidance and support for parents. If we can no longer rely on families to fully support the development of children, then schools, with the help of the community, will have to fill the void.

Strategies for Schools: Ten Thoughts for Turbulent Times

  1. The need to protect your own capacity to develop and sustain high levels of achievement by each student and each member of staff.
  2. To conduct a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities,Threats analysis to assess your situation objectively and to consult with all your stakeholders about the school’s priorities.
  3. To avoid invitations to join projects of the  ‘how to fill the vacuum left by Local Education Authorities, or how to help us to sustain our QUANGO, or how to maintain another school’s position of influence, or how to run the system with less funding’ variety, unless they relate to schools, institutions or agencies with whom you share the same young people and families, or schools with a genuine and pressing need to which you can, in some part, respond.
  4. To remember to differentiate between the political whims and swings of the pendulum, from that which is unchanging and which will not be reversed or dropped at some future point.
  5. In consultation with the whole school community, to save costs and through collaboration with other schools and partners, to achieve economies of scale and commissioning power.
  6. To sustain and develop your recruitment by taking advantage of and developing your existing ITT Partnerships. Be ready for the training places opportunity offered by School Direct in 2012, identifying prospective employees in advance, ensuring that your school is a highly desirable employment and career destination.
  7. To secure Academy status under your own terms and to seek to consolidate your position and that of your partners’ by having a clear and unambiguous ethos and perhaps an affiliation to an umbrella organisation (e.g. Schools Co-operative Society, Faith Groups, Local Authority, Commissioning Mutual, Local Area, Trust etc).
  8. To develop closer links and collaboration with your Secondary, Junior and Infant link schools.
  9. To ensure quality in your classrooms and management systems through research, critical enquiry, dialogue and reflection.
  10. To strive, as appropriately and as far as possible, to achieve the goal of all your students, staff, visitors and friends finding your school to be a happy and rewarding place to be. 

Hegemony and Education

Education often registers high up in any poll about public concerns. We are currently in the latest, most radical and extreme phase to shake up the school system, in another attempt to ‘lever up’ results. The direction of travel is, by accident or design, likely to further widen the gaps between school performance levels and thereby provide another blow to any chances of improving social mobility. This accepted status quo also includes an all powerful independent sector which has  a stranglehold on Oxbridge places and most positions of power in society. The current wheeze of cherry picking other countries apparently successful school systems carefully avoids the published failures of such systems and the wide spread misgivings of many local people. So when will the whistle blow on all of this? It may be that our politicians are collectively deaf and blind to some of these injustices as they, after all, have done well by the current system.

In the name of ‘fairness’ and social justice I offer three questions: 1.Is it not the case that every child in this country should have easy access to a local and successful school? (by successful school perhaps a school that rates as Good by OFSTED) 2. Do we know how close we are to achieving this and what resources and policies would be required in order to do so? 3. If the over riding aim is to maximise the potential of every child in this country, surely such a system as this would provide the best solution?

  I find it hard to believe that the answers to these questions would not be: Yes, No and Yes. If this is the case, I smell a very large rat sustaining and sheltering behind this hegemony.

Riots

I will try not to succumb to a knee jerk reaction but there are a number of thoughts that spring to mind. The now infamous 120,000 families targeted by the government in a ‘see to them before the next election’ claim, do of course contain some of school age. In the short term, making better use of the fact that many teachers and schools have built up good relationships with some of these young people and their families, ought to be a priority – if only to listen. This age group will need EMA, help with finding a job as well as the support of youth and community groups. Expensive – yes, but cheaper than rebuilding city centres.

For the younger age groups, changes to the curriculum should surely be a priority. This will probably need a loosening of the current straightjacket on schools of ‘exam results accountability’  and a restoration of the funding that was deployed in the most recent attempt, now strangled, to provide a decent vocational curriculum. Parenting will also need to be a focus and the spirit of Every Child Matters, and a locally co-ordinated approach, needs resurrecting.

The problem always seems to be one of amnesia on the part of politicians looking for easy wins and the rest of society, who look the other way. We know that this challenging group exists. We have been trying to do something about it and this has probably prevented previous riots. Recently, the volatile mix of  student fee protests, phone hacking scandals, cuts, unemployment, banking bonus excess etc has tipped things over the edge.We forget that we cannot afford to stop trying and that we have not, as yet, exhausted all the different approaches. The big challenge, as we see the lurch to the right, is to have the courage to make the arguments about the need for ‘tough love’. Schools are pretty good at this and in the best ones, as in the best families, a recognition that there is the need both for the tough and for the love.

Chord Centres and Our Future – Community Education and Leadership

Ambitious plans to support families and provide greater opportunities are all very well, but will miss the mark if we dont apply them to the challenges of our age. These challenges are, to all of our cost, subjects our politicians shy away from. This, the so called democracy trap – ‘there are no votes to be had (perhaps the opposite) so we will not address these things’. These things being the two great elephants in the room these days – the threat of global warming and the rapidly ageing population.

There seems to be some current interest in localism and society, but I suspect this is more about cuts in services and how this is such a great opportunity for you all! Sadly, all it seems to be doing is damaging the brand just when we need it. If we are to tackle the big issues we will need community action. We are back to the village – or orbits around market towns, urban neighbourhoods.

I suspect the best response to global warming needs a community by community strategy, to reduce energy consumption (and material consumption), to develop alternative sources of energy and more home grown, recyled, resources. The Chord Centre could be the source of information and a focus for leadership – all under the same banner as ‘for our childrens’ futures’. Coping with an ageing population is another potential  ‘village’ project. We need community care residences (where we shall all live one day) and where we can all be involved in looking after the elderly. For resourcing, there could be an element of central support, supplemented by local contributions. 

The school’s curriculum could be greatly enhanced (as some are already) by a practical focus and engagement on Energy and Care. Chord Centre expertise could become truly ‘cradle to the grave’. However, it is important to tread carefully and to pilot the ideas. Leadership and governance models exist in the schools and this is the obvious place to begin. Another pre requisite is for politicians to properly address the issues and please,  for once,  to look beyond the next election.

A vision for schools and society: Chord Centres

I think we need to reinforce and extend the bold vision for child welfare and education (expressed before in various intervention programmes, in this country and abroad) to counter the current market and laissez faire approach to schools, with its inherent risk of ‘the devil take the hindmost’.

 The Chord vision entails a degree of ‘all through schooling’  – we certainly need to remove the transition risks, particularly between early years, primary and secondary schooling. Parents would need to begin contact with the Chord Centre during pregnancy. The school should be the location for the Chord Centre and source for advice and teaching on health care and early development – in particular, on how to establish guidelines for behaviour, a balanced diet and the stimulation of  language development and cognitive skills. It would offer Integrated Services/Multi Agency access as well as contact with Voluntary and Community support groups. 

Pragmatically, there would need to be some linkage between receipt of benefits or tax breaks and attendance at the school centre, or some field work capacity for parents who cannot get to the school. All parents would be offered advice on parenting and the consequences for all parties of either failing to support the child or of creating too much  pressure on the child (and pressures on parents themselves). The aim would be to develop a lifelong, supportive relationship between the family and centre/school. Another focus would be on early intervention strategies. 

Idealistic? Yes.  Achievable?  Possibly, and given the high stakes involved, where the consequences of failure and the fruits of success have such a huge economic  and social impact, vital to try. Costs?  Not necessarily huge in finance terms but large in terms of a political investment. Discrimminatory, Big Brother?  Potentially so, but this is why it would need to involve every parent (as all of us can learn) and why it would need to be a system that integrates both the independent and state school sectors. We need to make the argument, that the fate of this country rests on this form of collective effort – probably best to avoid the war time comparisons but when you look at the risks and challenges we face…

Schools are currently judged and managed by a performance data approach that concentrates on the input and output of the school. This is surely an unhelpful convenience, as the more significant and difficult educational parameters relate to and involve family and community. We need to see the whole process of schooling as  a shared endeavour and make it work, so that the damaging processes of  judgement, competition and political interference can be suspended. As the African proverb has it: ‘It takes a village to raise a child’.

Social Pedagogy

 

Social Pedagogy covers the realm of Community Education and is essentially a blending of the approaches to social work and education. The origin of the concept lies in progressive European ideas that encompass the concepts of social skills and democratic entitlement. The latter idea has been developed by both Dewey and Freire in relation to democratic or critical pedagogies, particularly for disadvantaged groups in society.

Social Pedagogy is proving a useful concept to support the Every Child Matters agenda in the UK. To be seen as valuable, such approaches will need to address some of the perennial issues that emerge for young people often caused by a lack of parental support and family instability, peer pressure and community ethos, motivation, weak social and language skills, with the resultant impact on achievement, mental and physical well being.

The new training agenda for the Childrens Workforce will be a good place to begin to shape a local, context specific social pedagogy.