We find out how pupils benefit when schools forge links with their near neighbours…
AS 17th century author John Donne famously wrote, no man is an island – and the sentiment holds true for more than the individual man and woman on the street.
Mr Donne’s reference to the power of community in personal growth is equally applicable to the education sector, where savvy schools are only too aware of the benefits of exposing their pupils to people and places beyond the front gates.
Whether forging links with other establishments, volunteering at good causes or taking on fundraising challenges, there are countless examples of students gaining from giving back to those nearby.
Andover’s Farleigh School may sit in 70 acres of park and woodland, but its pupils are very much at the heart of their local community. Starting in year seven, youngsters are introduced to – and make friends with – their neighbours thanks to weekly visits from counterparts at Icknield Special School.
Farleigh’s pupils welcome their visitors and use imaginary and role play to give them an exciting hour in the grounds or the school sports hall, while events such as Christmas and Easter are marked with present giving and an egg hunt.
Miss Redmond, Head of Religious Studies and organiser of the sessions, said: “Both of these are eagerly anticipated by the children from both schools and watching our children’s delight as they help the Icknield pupils enjoy these occasions is a very special moment.
“The benefits of such a club are both immediate and long-term, and over the years I know how many Farleigh pupils have benefited from, and enjoyed the opportunity to be part of, this activity. It is certainly one of the best things we offer to our children.”
Farleigh is also quick to open its gates to other groups, including adult and child swimmers who make use of the swimming pool and the Kids on Track charity – founded by Farleigh parents – which runs activity camps on the grounds during holidays.
Taunton School is equally forthcoming when it comes to sharing its facilities and experiences with the wider community. An outreach programme is an integral part of the calendar at the Somerset centre, with pupils from state primary and secondary schools invited to attend STEM, creative arts and academic events throughout the year.
It also operates the Levels Academy Trust, which engages with pupils from four local primary schools, providing events for up to 1,000 children aged four and older and even offering a year seven scholarship to one youngster.
Community also sits at the heart of Highfield and Brookham Schools, where a whole host of projects give pupils a solid sense of their place in the world. Youngsters complete a sponsored walk every year to raise funds for Highreach Holidays, a week-long, volunteer-run residential break on school grounds for children with severe learning disabilities.
Highfield and Brookham takes part in the Haslemere Hounds initiative, launched by local mayor Brian Howard, which sees businesses and other groups painting hound statues along the theme of community. And the Highfield Centenary Bursary Fund aims to broaden access to education at the schools.
Phillip Evitt, Headmaster of Highfield School, said: “We place great importance on children understanding their place in the wider community.
“Looking beyond the school grounds children are encouraged to fully engage with the wider world and to find the part that they play in society and as global citizens. We achieve this through close links with our immediate community and further afield.”
Examples of Somerset’s Millfield School working alongside and benefiting its near neighbours are certainly not hard to find. On a professional level, it welcomes academic staff from outside of its gates onto much of its continuing professional development and teacher training programmes. Volunteers also give up their time to assist with organisations such as Shapwick Moor, Street Harvest, Southlawns Care Home, South West Volunteers and Cheddar Vale Gateway Club.
And when it comes to providing additional opportunities to nearby youngsters, a rich schedule of art, music and sport projects are in place.
Recent examples include cyber security and Lego learning festivals for local secondary schools, outreach tennis courses at primary schools, guided walks at Worley Hill and a robot workshop for High Ham and Kingsbury Episcopi Primary Schools.
Headmaster Gavin Horgan explained: “The school is grounded in the strength of relationships that are the bedrock of all great communities. We are proud to have a long association with the local community as active members of Somerset and the south west region.
“The school does this by widening access through financial support, sharing facilities, resources and knowledge with local state schools, involvement in community projects, teacher development and offering life-changing opportunities to disadvantaged children.”
Ensuring that community outreach is much more than an afterthought is also a feature at Surrey’s Gordon’s School. Alongside candlelit carol services, arts evenings and school fairs, the Woking-based establishment runs an annual Make a Difference (MAD) Day specifically designed to impact positively on the community. During the most recent MAD 24 hours, youngsters picked up litter, washed cars, volunteered at primary schools and made and served afternoon tea to elderly residents living nearby.
And 31 students put themselves in the position of the homeless by sleeping on the school’s parade ground in cardboard boxes after listening to a talk from national charity Launchpad.
Deputy Head Rob Pavis explained that Gordon’s is integral to the local area and the school is committed to giving something back.
“Our charitable events provide opportunities for students to consider their wider community, the difficulties experienced by those less fortunate and how their actions can make a positive impact,” he said. “A small act such as picking up litter really can ‘make a difference’.”
While examples of the benefits the wider community receives from these schools sharing their facilities, projects and manpower are numerous, the positive results go both ways.
Pupils at Farleigh School are able to grow and develop through schemes such as the buddying project, which has seen them visit Lion Oak Court and Harrier Grange residential care homes in Andover.
Those taking part in the Icknield Special School scheme, which has been running for 21 years, do so under a leadership programme, providing them with invaluable life skills at the same time as allowing the visitors to explore and enjoy.
Rob Pavis, of Gordon’s School, was full of praise for the positive external and internal impact of engaging with the wider community.
In addition to its MAD 24-hour activities, Gordon’s welcomes the public to Insight Talks from the likes of Maj Gen Mungo Melvin and Jeremy Paxman, hosts cookery and painting sessions, runs guided tours and holds choral evensongs in its Victorian chapel.
Rob added: “It is wonderful to see members of the community enjoy events at the school while our students benefit from being challenged, given responsibility, and interacting with complete strangers in familiar and completely new environments, whilst contributing to their local community. It also provides lasting memories for all of them.”
Taunton School further demonstrates its awareness of its place as part of a community thanks to a community orchestra and choir attended by children, parents and staff from outside the school gates. Pupils are able to learn practical and personal skills through volunteering activities held as part of a thriving co-curricular study programme.
The school is also proud to play a part in the economic and environmental health of its local area, including having its in-house catering team sourcing most of its produce from nearby suppliers.
While swelling the coffers of the local economy may not be most schools’ primary motivation, it is undoubtedly a welcome bonus – and it is one clearly in evidence at Millfield School. 2018 saw the school surpass £73 million in contributions to the UK’s GDP, with £38 million contributed to the Mendip area in which it is based.
Gavin Horgan said: “Millfield has always been an active member of the local area and we are proud to be both a leading employer and a keen participator in community and educational partnerships. Our work on a local and national level seeks to promote accessibility and collaboration at all levels and I look forward to expanding our relationships still further in the future and encourage everyone across the country to do the same. Together we can make a difference.”
And at Highfield and Brookham Schools, the impact of looking beyond the school gates has been recognised by the Independent School Inspectorate, which recently concluded that pupils’ “awareness of moral responsibility for others and the wider world, is well developed”.
Phillip Evitt concluded that the school’s community is animated by a sense of mission to draw the best out of everyone, sharing values of compassion and generosity. He added: “We are acutely conscious of the importance of service, duty and care to others in our local community and the children benefit from learning the value and importance of giving something back.”