The centralisation of control of education is leaving schools prey to even more political influence. The pendulum will swing back – this usually happens as a result of an eventual realisation that things are not working and because of a weakening of the collective amnesia as to what the merits of the old order were.
Local management of schools brings the system closer to the parents and communities which the schools serve. One of the areas of collective amnesia at the moment is about schools being an organic element of a community – if you detach the system from its immediate roots it will inevitably wither.
Schools work best when the community and the parents feel ownership. Teachers feel valued for the wider aspects of the work that they do in supporting families and community. The curriculum can be adapted to suit local needs. The whole process is a partnership, a joint enterprise. It surely takes the proverbial village to raise the child.
The current climate is pressing schools to collaborate – the economies of scale in the current climate are too great an advantage to forgo. The threat of take over by an external asset stripping academy chain is another driver towards local networks. What we miss at the moment is local leadership. This has been exacerbated by the relentless attacks on Local Authorities and it is difficult to see where leadership will emerge. Such a need for local leadership is not confined to schooling – locally organised responses to economic hardship, energy supply and threats from a lack of planning control also stand out.
Atomised societies are difficult phenomena to change. What we need are successful pioneers to emerge and for their achievements to be shared and understood. There must be a community somewhere in the Western world that is leading the way, but where?
A familiar phenomenon in education is that those who need the most support are usually the furthest away from receiving it. Whether this is the parents of the students most in need but least likely to be seen at a parents evening, or the schools on the edge, schools who may be the hardest to engage in a cluster. With a good deal of instability around the future role of Local Authorities or Childrens Services and the prospect of more stand alone academies and parent run schools, one might ask who is going to keep an eye on this free for all.
It is perhaps to the US we could look for a model that could be adapted here – the concept of the School Superintendent. We may even have had such a role ourselves in a previous age. The Superintendent has the power (through a Board or elected Committee) to intervene to support local groups of schools. They might broker arrangements to ensure that all schools are supported through clusters and help prevent situations where different types of schools go it alone. They might also relieve some of the pressure of Head Teachers by representing the cause for the strategic local interests and support the move to integrated agency approaches at a local level. You obviously need the right person in the job but then that’s true of all posts in education.
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.