Be a local school for local people

28th August 2015 at 01:00
If you make connections with your community, pupils will reap the benefits

My first headship was at a village school and I prioritised putting my new workplace at the heart of the small community. There was a bimonthly piece about the school in the parish magazine and I walked to the village shop to buy my lunch a couple of days a week. This was hugely beneficial in getting to know residents and businesses, allowing me to have a good natter and make sure people were aware of their local school. It was time very well spent.

The partnership between home and school is the most crucial one for ensuring children achieve. But in order to offer an exciting learning environment with lots of enrichment opportunities, it is critical to develop partnerships in the wider community -with other schools, organisations and businesses. Importantly, those relationships must then be sustained. This is what those regular walks were all about.

But what partnerships can be useful? Finding common ground is key and you need to be clear what you want to get out of community links. Is it for the children to experience things they wouldn't normally be able to? Is it to access facilities such as science labs, food technology resources or sports pitches? Of course, it shouldn't all be take, take, take: ask yourself what you can offer in return. Below is my brief guide to creating and maintaining successful partnerships.

Draw on community knowledge

Take an interest in and get to know the community your school serves. Find the time to walk around the area, understand the geography, learn where the roads lead and who your neighbours are. Invite local people into the school - they will have so many experiences and stories to share. A recent visit by a 92-year-old former Second World War pilot had our pupils spellbound.

Engage with businesses

Actively supporting businesses, including using local stores, is a great way of generating goodwill, and you never know what benefits this may bring for the children. A local art gallery worked with us to host an exhibition of children's work, which was then sold. Not only were some of the amazing pieces produced by our pupils seen by a wider audience but they also learned about the mechanics of pricing and profit.

Meanwhile, our football, rugby and hockey kits have been sponsored by a local garage and a local independent estate agent. Sponsorship is something tangible that benefits both parties, and when we win a match that is a real bonus. Publicly acknowledging these links in your newsletter, on your website and in the local press is very important. And never underestimate the effect of a personal thank you letter.

Collaborate with other schools

Developing partnerships with other schools is not only important for sharing good practice and enhancing CPD but will also lead to opportunities for the children. For primaries, establishing links with secondaries - who will be looking to take your pupils in the future - provides access to curriculum expertise and facilities as well as a chance for staff to observe and share pedagogy. We enjoy very positive links with both maintained and independent schools and endeavour to reciprocate by offering work experience placements and opportunities for groups of students to work with our children. We've recently extended this approach to making links with the science departments at the University of Bath.

Prioritise parent groups

You should also cultivate partnerships much closer to home - in particular, with your parent body. The pool of expertise among parents never ceases to amaze me. Some of them do the most incredible jobs and have so much to share with the children. Perhaps the most vital partnership is with your parent-teacher association. These parents give up oodles of time to raise money, run events and provide refreshments, and it is vital that you keep them onside. Go to meetings, try to get to every event you can, and if you can't attend let them know in advance. If they need anything, help them out. The sheer goodwill generated by this is immeasurable.

How do you create these links and ensure they stay strong in the future? In a nutshell, you have to put in the hours - community links and partnerships do not just happen. If the school choir is singing somewhere, go and listen. Get out on the touchline to watch your football, netball or rugby team, including at weekends. Support annual events in the neighbourhood. Be seen.

Richard Bullard is headteacher of Combe Down Primary School in Bath

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