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"It takes a whole village to raise a child"

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

Many African communities have a variation of this proverb and it was wonderful to see it quoted in the IPPR report "Out of Kilter: How to rebalance our school system to work for people, economy and society". It is perhaps inevitable at party conference season and with a general election fast approaching that all kinds of organisations should be putting forward their views on the direction that education should take in our country. It is striking that two of the most authoritative reports clearly recognise that schools, whilst critically important, cannot address the current educational needs of our young people single-handedly.

"Out of Kilter" quoted above, says

We need to stop putting more pressure on schools alone to educate - and solve wider problems such as mental ill-health - and instead harness and connect the resources of public services, parents and the wider community.

The National Governance Association (NGA), in its manifesto ""From Classrooms to Communities" says

As schools increasingly provide additional services, NGA calls for a review of expectations and resources, advocating for the Family Hub model's continued rollout to provide holistic support for young children and their families.

At its best, our school system reflects, supports and challenges our communities.

For many of our families, education is a service, something to be added on to their parenting and upbringing of their child - providing specialist education and opportunities that an individual family could not realistically provide. For those children, who arrive in school generally well-supported and prepared for school life, our professional understanding of how children learn has never been better and it is arguable that teaching and behaviour approaches in school are as good or better than they have ever been, at least in my lifetime. These children are thriving in our schools.

For a significant number of our families, however, school is an essential point of stability and support. Children do not arrive ready and well-supported to learn - mental health issues, economic hardship, chaotic homes, caring responsibilities and a multitude of other factors mean that schools have an essential social function in upholding the fabric of our society. We need our schools to provide this social and caring function for the sake of our young people.

In the best interests of our communities and our society we need our schools to do so much more than provide academic learning and extra-curricular opportunities. Our schools are "anchor institutions" to use the phrase from the recent excellent "Child of the North" report. But with this comes responsibility on all of us to work with schools, to support them, to fund and resource them properly. Schools must be outward facing, responsive to parents and communities, not hiding from the world beyond their doors. The time for division, building defensive walls and fighting battles over arcane rules is over..... it is time to work together to enable the best possible education of each individual child in our community - their needs must come first.

As always, I am more than happy to engage with anyone around these issues, and to offer support to anyone seeking to help their child thrive in secondary school - just visit email or message 07767142877. I look forward to hearing from you.

James Harris

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