BUILDING LEARNING COMMUNITIES

 

CEDC was represented on the Social Exclusion Unit’s Policy Action Team ‘Schools Plus’; its remit was to investigate ways in which schools may both continue their drive for improved achievement by their students and be involved in the important issues within the local community. In other words, suggest ways in which these can become tied together rather than being tackled separately and, therefore, encourage community involvement by a greater number of schools. As a follow-up to the publication of the Schools plus Report CEDC was commissioned to produce a ‘toolkit’ for schools designed to demonstrate through existing examples of good practice how schools might develop their community links – this is entitled ‘Building Learning Communities’ and both documents are available free of charge from DfES Publications (0845 6022260).

 

Subsequently, there has been great interest from schools about developing partnership approaches, linking with other providers (including youth services), meeting the wider learning needs of the community, developing family learning opportunities, making facilities more widely available (e.g., ICT suites), addressing the needs of the whole family, and being proactive in addressing the issues that detract from children and their families achieving their potential (housing, child protection, lack of transport, poor play and recreation facilities, and so on). Of course, the development of ConneXions services, SureStart and HomeStart projects, Healthy Schools, and so on, have only added to the interest and the potential for schools to work in partnership with other organisations.!

 

Currently CEDC is working with an increasing number of schools on these inter-related issues – and we do so assuming that locally based workers are influencing those schools in complementary ways. If CEDC participates in developing local networks, in identifying potential partners and additional resources, devising action plans to support strategies, it automatically looks to include youth services.

 

At the same time CEDC is working with existing and aspiring ‘specialist schools’ that, by definition, have to propose a ‘Community Plan’ as part of their application for funding. Irrespective of what we might think of such schools these Community Plans are an opportunity to ensure that wider learning needs are met and that the new resources and funding attracted by the status are available on a wider basis than, perhaps, the school might have traditionally have offered them. Each new specialist school is an opportunity for local young people and often for the local community as well.!

 

CEDC and Education Extra are also piloting ‘Schools Plus Teams’ involving specialist consultants working with 6 schools of very varied backgrounds finding ways of engaging more actively with their communities.  These consultants have, without exception, found that there are considerable numbers of agencies and voluntary bodies surrounding schools who are often ready and willing to join forces to tackle issues of deprivation, exclusion and help to drive up levels of achievement in a variety of different ways.

 

Schools, we have proved, are also community regenerators. A number of schools, working with CEDC, have created real jobs for local people and, at the same time, generated new community facilities. In addition, CEDC’s family learning scheme ‘SHARE’ is creating a ready-made workforce for schools and youth projects recruiting volunteer and then paid staff, many going on to undertake professional qualifying courses.

 

And, all of this work is proven to raise achievement levels – not only with a direct link to the number of GCSE at grades A-C, but certainly extending the rising levels of achievement by young people and maintaining that beyond the completion of short-term initiatives. CEDC’s research in conjunction with the University of Hull’s School of International Leadership is available via our web site.

 

The level of interest is tracked to some degree by the growth in membership of CEDC’s Community Schools Network – more than 2000 schools and many individuals network, share good practice, access the members only section of the website, receive Network magazine five times each year, take advantage of reduced price consultancy , discounts  to conferences and events, and priority access to new projects. One of the latter is CEDC’s very successful Millennium Volunteers Scheme, currently operating in 39 schools in England, enabling students and former-students to share their skills and talents in their communities.

 

CEDC is also involved in the delivery of the Neighbourhood Support Fund; that strand that comprises some 520 community and voluntary organisations that are creating new ways of engaging with 13-19 year olds who have been identified as ‘excluded’. These organisations are often small and very local, many are faith and minority groups, working with travellers, refugees and asylum seekers as well as local residents and members of their own communities. Without help these groups will remain isolated and will not connect sufficiently to benefit the young participants. Is the local youth service engaging with these groups?

 

We are interested in the progression of these teenagers – after they’ve shown their commitment to their futures, what’s next for them? With the interest of DfES and the financial support of the Black Country LSC we are developing a form of modern apprenticeship that will provide work-based training alongside college courses and a qualification sufficient to enable them to get employment with the community and voluntary sector, and that will often be in their own community.

 

CEDC has developed a series of projects that have proven effective in engaging men and dads – two target young dads. In addition, we have responded to the widespread admission that organisations are not successful in involving men by preparing a set of learning materials that will enable organisations and their staff to become ‘Men Ready’. Several local authorities have expressed interest in becoming involved.

 

Details of many of CEDC’s projects are available on the website: www.cedc.org.uk

 

In addition, CEDC continues to undertake consultancy, pre-inspection and quality assurance work, action planning, and monitoring and evaluation for a variety of statutory and other organisations. CEDC also has its own resources section – many of the books and other resources are displayed on the website.

 

John Grainger is Director of Education and Lifelong Learning at CEDC. His email address is [email protected]. Previously he was Head of the Youth and Community Service in Hertfordshire. He was a member of CYWU for many years.

CEDC (the Community Education Development Centre) is a self-financing independent charitable trust based in Coventry but operating throughout the UK which generates its income from grants, fees and sales of publications. CEDC works to develop exciting, innovative and imaginative approaches in order to widen opportunities through learning for those who have previously benefited least from such opportunities.

 

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