We think there are three sorts of community to think about; and that all three represent potential for improving education through better schools-communities links:
- the local community made up of most of the people around a school neighbourhood;
- communities represented by all sorts of community groups that exist in and between neighbourhoods, for example sports clubs and allotment societies;
- communities – often made up of families with children who have special needs and abilities – who have special expertise.
The local community at large
A community is a group of people with a shared interest and identity. Nearly all of us share a collective interest in the education of young people. After all, we depend on them to make and sustain the world in which we will grow, or have already grown, old? Most of us probably identify quite closely with the place we live. So, there is, a broad local community of interest in young people’s education locally; and most people belong to it. When, for example, government spending translates into cuts in schools’ budgets in the place we live, we may sign a petition, put up a poster or talk to our MP about it. We don’t want to see ‘our’ children disadvantaged, even if they are not necessarily our children in the sense that we are their parents.
A wide range of community groups
Our society is made up of more than broad local communities. We belong to all sorts of community groups – some are quite formal and most are very informal: they don’t necessarily have books of rules or annual general meetings, but they exist. For example: sports clubs; cultural groups; business associations; faith communities; campaigns, clubs, support networks and self-help groups… These, too, are communities that often have an interest, and sometimes a direct involvement, in young people’s education. As Mick Waters, Professor of Education at Wolverhampton University says: Schooling is part of education, but not all education takes place in school.
Communities with expertise in children with special needs and abilities
The community groups in a place are part of the education available to young people who live there; and, of course, there are families – grandparents, parents and siblings. Families play an even greater part in educating young people. Sometimes, however, children don’t ‘fit the box’ – they have needs and abilities different to those commonly catered for by local services, including schools. Families of these children frequently join or form community groups that are based in interests shared with other families with children who also have special needs and abilities. These groups typically become very well-informed – but not professionally qualified – in how to get the best from those children. They are, in other words, experts in education for young people with special needs and abilities.