You will no doubt be familiar with this term. I have no real idea what it means. At the time, the government created this initiative and then pushed it out. It was even part of the inspection framework at some point and although open to definition, it seemed well intended.
Schools inevitably spend a lot of time making outwards-facing plans. Supporting the community in many ways. We don't really need to be inspected on this, but we do need it to be acknowledged in what we do.
Have you ever created a great initiative only to find that whilst the main objective fails, a wonderful alternative occurs?
A number of years ago, I sat with a young man having lunch in school. We talked and he shared the fact that he wasn't allowed to play out. This was because his father had been killed in a gang-related incident and his Mum wanted to make sure that he was safe at home.
'I can remember this chat now. As we talked, I once again had the realisation that I didn't know as much as I though I did about our community, and the lives of our children. To me, the prospect of travelling around outside your neighbourhood seemed simple, but for many of our children, this just didn't happen.
I told him that if he walked over the hill at the front of the school, things do look very different.'
Following this conversation, I created a twinning project. This was intended to give our children an opportunity to experience a different community. 80% of the children at our school came from the 'worst' 10% nationally with regards to deprivation, with most having never seen the countryside.
They had a great day out in summerwine country. Pink ice-cream, watercolours and sunshine with the local school children.
When they returned, I asked them how the day went. My expectation would be that they loved it, and would aspire to this.
But they didn't.
'There's always the temptation to make assumptions or to think for the children. I think that we are often of guilty of doing this in school. We sometimes decide what children will like, how they will play and what will make them happy. It seems to suit us to do this so that we can make decisions on their behalf. When in actual fact, we should be spending more time asking and listening.'
It had instead, instilled a sense of remarkable pride. They talked about how much they liked their visit, but how much more they loved their own corner of town. About their families, friends neighbours and school. We had successfully managed to broaden their view, and at the same time recognised and reinforced everything that was significant in their lives.
The WIN / WIN
The project itself was really fun. Our twin school came to us on a coach and the children were buddied up. They played, learned and ate together at our school. At the end of the year we invited all of their families over to us and we had a really lovely, sentimental event. We gave certificates out, had food from around the world donated by our families, and talked about all of the new friendships. The children had also hooked up on our learning platform and were chatting online. I can remember joking with the audience that this was how simple friendship could be, and that it had all started with a chance conversation with a likeminded headteacher.
For our children this was special. They learned about another community and they built some interesting bridges. It was true that this didn't mean that they all wanted to go out to the countryside to become farmers, but it did reinforce a sense of pride in where they came from. This is something that our community thrived on. There are things that they learned that transcended lesson plans just by doing it. We also cannot overlook the value of creating simple friendships with children that otherwise, they would never have met.
For their children this was special. As you may expect, their school was entirely white British. Our school had around thirty-five different nationalities. This in itself is creates a significant experience. There was also an underlying status issue. This did not feature in any planning, but we do know that when the bus turned up outside our school, very few of them had ever been to our side of town. This could also bring with it some pre-conceptions that we could address, just through being with us and having a great time together. When their families came to us for the event, they loved the fact that their children were developing an understand of the wider community and diversity. I know this because we received a beautiful stone carving from one of their parents as a gift, with an inscription and an image of two children holding hands. One of their governors joined us for a term to be a teaching assistant and some years later, I had a chance meeting with a lady who recalled her son befriending a South African boy from our school.