During this challenging time, it is more important than ever to be part of a network; to have the space to talk to colleagues, hear what they are doing and share ideas.
Our WE virtual meetings are designed to support you during this challenging time. They are an opportunity to learn with and from colleagues across the country during this fast-moving situation. Discover our WE ‘Summer Curriculum’ for Trusts, Primaries and Secondaries.
This week we heard inputs from Seb Chapleau, Mei Lim (Director of Reach Feltham Children’s Hub) and Heidi Shewell-Cooper (Community Organiser for Nottingham Citizens and Primary 6 Partnership Manager). Watch Mei’s input at Whole Education’s 10th Annual Conference.
What did we learn about effective community partnerships?
1. This crisis is highlighting how schools are more than just providers of education – they are vital local anchor institutions. Schools are pivotal to their communities and are providing services beyond just education – food provision, support for pupil and parent wellbeing, signposting and hosting other local service providers, even making equipment for key workers.
2. Relationships, as ever, are crucial: schools that have built good relationships with parents and the community have been best placed to respond to the current challenges.
3. To engage with communities in a meaningful way, we need to be humble: to start by really listening to them. Mei Lim discussed how creating opportunities to go into the community and really listen to what they want and need has been crucial in developing Reach Hub’s Cradle to Career support to meet those needs. Her advice was to be reflective and a little humble – don’t go in with set ideas of what a partnership means but instead co-construct it. Building vision together helps to build the trust
4. Projects can be a powerful way to engage local community partners and develop pupil agency to shape shared places. Heidi Shewell-Cooper shared her experience of a specific project in Nottingham which started with neighbourhood walks. Children explored their local area, produced work about what they liked and wanted to improve, and surveyed parents and other pupils. They then shared their findings with the school, parents, local councillors, police and parks service, and took real ownership constructing a plan to improve it.
5. The most successful community partnerships are embedded in and across the curriculum – not just as an add on. The project was a success because it was purposeful and relevant, embedded across Geography lessons, speaking, writing and listening. Though the enhanced confidence the whole school community has gained from the project – and having seen the impact they have as agents of change can have, pupils have completed a number of further projects.
6. Draw on the practice and ideas of others to generate ideas and begin the conversation about what could work in your context. For inspiration on how to use the curriculum to drive community engagement there are some useful resources on Ron Berger EL website including two videos : a little more than just people and Contributing to a better world – both of which are useful tools for staff CPD sessions to generate discussion and ideas.
7. Having a ‘brand’ – a local identity and narrative for the work you are doing in your community helps create understanding and buy in. Mei Lim said that one of the advantages their Early Learning Community had in Feltham was being linked to a Save the Children project. This made telling the story locally simpler and credible. In schools’ own contexts, this might mean developing some simple consistent messaging and an agreed communication strategy around the work you intend to do to gain buy-in and credibility.
8. This brand doesn’t have to be invented from scratch. Look at the work happening locally that can give a framework for school’s priorities – and weave you into a wider tapestry of work happening in the community. Wensum Primary in Norwich shared how they have embraced the city of Norwich’s regeneration project. This was closely matched to the work they intended to do and gave them a common language and messaging – which was already recognised and a priority for other local bodies. They linked their science, geography, history and art curriculum to work happening locally around the city’s five key values – creative, connected, dynamic, fair and liveable.
How leaders are preparing for greater provision and ‘more open’ schools
9. Engage parents in an open conversation about your plans. New Milton Junior School have shared government and DfE guidance with the community and have invited their Y6 parents to a Zoom meeting to ask questions about the initial plans for their pupils to return. Northumberland Heath have consulted parents about whether their children will be returning from 1 June to support their planning.
10. Use this information to support decisions about what remote learning you can continue to provide best. Manor Park will review the current online learning provision for the year groups who are able to return to school – and decide whether this needs to continue for those children unable to return due to medical conditions.
11. Review how you organise and use all your team most efficiently. Reviewing how you use your whole team – including teachers who are shielding and unable to come in, TA support, and other contracted members of staff – to deliver on your priorities.
12. This is a really different situation to what we are used to as educators. Train teachers for the specific challenges they will face in a ‘socially distanced’ school. A number of school leaders discussed the importance of staff training before the children return to ensure teachers are aligned in their thinking and role modelling a consistent approach across the school – this is particularly important as many pupils will not be with their normal teachers.
13. Everyone is very busy, so it is crucial to carve out planning time. School leaders need to ensure PPA time is available to staff who are in school with year groups – perhaps by closing the school for half a day per week. Brooklands Grange are closing the school to pupils on a Wednesday to enable deep cleaning, CPD for staff and PPA time.
14. And allow teachers (and yourself!) some time off. This is crucial at such an incredibly difficult time. Mayfield Primary School are asking their TAs to provide child care during half term to allow teaching staff and senior staff get a real break!
Register your interest in the series to share your ideas with other primary leaders across the country and find out how they are tackling shared challenges.