We are fortunate to have public services bequeathed to us from previous generations, but we don’t leave our prosperity and well-being up to public services alone? Children’s Quarter members, for example, provide services to children, young people and families who are vulnerable to social isolation. Our members are made up of, supported and led by people who have been affected by the way children are often treated who don’t ‘fit the box’ of mainstream services, including schools. The services we provide aren’t meant to replace those mainstream services, but are aimed at making them more inclusive and more useful.
Making schools and other public services more inclusive and more useful depends on them being able to work with ‘civil society’. That is, families, communities and community and voluntary groups – people like our members and supporters. No matter how excellent our schools, and how dedicated the teachers and staff in them, they can always be made better through appropriate and effective community links. In this time of austerity this is clearer than ever.
We don’t know who else is taking a lead on making school-community links better. We know plenty of projects that have improved the links between schools and communities with good results. These projects, however, are time-limited; they often depend on individuals – both in schools and outside them – making great efforts; and they aren’t resourced sustainably. When they come to an end, we have to start over again – making the case; putting in the effort; raising the funds and volunteer time for the next project. There should be policy to help schools and community groups to build up and sustain better links.
Our draft charter is about making more of self-help potential by providing the reason and means for improving the links between schools and communities: making it easier for them to work together. We think it is needed because links between communities and schools:
- are not well understood and their value is not always acknowledged: students, families and teachers commonly express the view that learning is limited to schooling; although we know it is not;
- can be hard to negotiate and often depend on a very few people – including headteachers in particular – who are typically busy and have difficult jobs and for whom links with the community may never seem such a priority as all the other competing tasks in their diaries;
- cover a very wide range of things, a few of which can be contentious and all of which have to take into account the safeguarding of children and vulnerable people.
So, for example, we would all expect volunteers who help with, say, reading in school to be screened to see that they pose no known threat to children, but we might not need the same level of checking to go on to invite a guest speaker from a local business to give a supervised talk. Likewise, we might not feel easy about a local community trying to influence the curriculum or the way, for example, human rights or science is taught; but that doesn’t mean we need to panic over a community organisation providing play services that extend the school day and make the education a school can provide more inclusive.
We have tended to let lack of understanding, lack of time and a mis-estimation of the risks and objections of links between schools and communities stand in their way. This draft charter is part of an attempt to try and put that right. Children’s Quarter is a co-operative of groups that serve children and are committed to doing so inclusively. We have put this draft charter together in consultation with members, but want them – and you – to be more involved in completing it; and, perhaps, linking it to useful work others are doing. So you will see there are questions posed on each page. Please join in and send us your ideas using the form on each page.
We think these are the most important areas where a Charter for school-community links can help make more of the potential for education. What do you think – please let us know how important you think the following areas are, and add any ones you think are very important or quite important to the list below: