When it comes to closing the attainment gap between affluent and poor children, schools will often say they can only do so much to improve the life chances of pupils often faced with myriad issues, from a poor diet and damp housing, to neglect and domestic abuse.
Now the University of Glasgow has joined forces with Glasgow City Council to try to mobilise an entire community to improve the lives of its children, by creating the first “Children’s Neighbourhood” in the East End communities of Bridgeton and Dalmarnock.
It is taking inspiration from initiatives such as the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York, which aims to address all the issues families are facing in a deprived area, from crumbling apartments and rampant drug use, to violent crime and chronic health problems.
It is also drawing on the experience of projects closer to home, such as the Greater Shankill Children and Young People Zone in Belfast, which is aiming to improve the lives of around 6,000 young people in the area on a “child-by-child basis”.
'More bang for our buck'
According to Chris Chapman, a driving force behind the creation of Scotland’s first Children’s Neighbourhood – which is being led by Dalmarnock Primary School headteacher Nancy Clunie – the upshot should be that we get “more bang for our buck”.
Clunie says her school has already started working with other statutory agencies and the voluntary sector, which has led to the introduction of a homework club and a summer holiday club. The plan is to extend this type of working even further, she adds.
Chapman is the senior academic adviser to the Scottish Attainment Challenge – the government’s £750 million drive to improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils – and chair in educational policy and practice at the University of Glasgow’s Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change.
His research, he says, has looked at what can be done within a school to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children – from improving learning and teaching to developing leadership capacity – and how schools can work together to improve. But this new project is about what happens beyond school, and it is here that he believes “the headroom” for making an impact is greatest.
“Children don’t spend all their hours in school,” says Chapman. “This is about how we communicate the broader experiences of children into schools so we create coherent, holistic, wrap around provision for them. It is quite clear that schools alone, or health and social care alone, cannot tackle the levels of deprivation that exist in isolation.”
A concerted effort
The importance of agencies working together is of course not new. Horrific examples of child abuse have brought into stark relief the need for the police, social services, health and education services to improve communication.
However, under the Children’s Neighbourhoods initiative, the hope is that things will move from loose partnership-working to concerted effort, says Chapman, and, crucially, there will be support in place to help that happen.
Clunie will receive help to lead the project from Lizzie Leman, a research fellow at the University of Glasgow. Leman has been in post since April.
The early days have been about building relationships and trust, talking to local parents and children, and getting to grips with the agencies working in the area, says Chapman. The next step will be to identify priorities.
Meanwhile, two further University of Glasgow research fellows will be evaluating the work and feeding back results. Ultimately, the hope is that more Children’s Neighbourhoods will be established and a national evidence base will be built “about tackling some of the issues that relate to poverty, health and education outcomes”, says Chapman.
Chapman will provide “strategic oversight” with Carol Tannahill, director of the Glasgow Centre for Population Health, and Nick Watson, chair of disability research at the University of Glasgow and a co-director of What Works Scotland, an initiative to improve public services.
Chapman says: “It’s about connectivity and coherence so that different parts of the system work better together over a significant period of time. It is about getting people to think about where the gaps are and reducing any duplication of effort. The hope is that the totality will be greater than the sum of the parts.”