Hannah Jones: 'It's no longer possible for a school to remain an island'

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The Independent Online

To describe Building Schools for the Future (BSF) as a learning journey is an understatement. Everyone involved, from learners through staff, school leaders, stakeholders and contractors up to policymakers and politicians, has had to innovate, monitor and change.

If anyone has had an easy ride, they have kept quiet about it. School capital projects, whether they are new-build or remodelling, are now recognised as life-changing opportunities, not just for the individuals who attend those schools, and those who work there, but for the communities and regions around them.

The immediate task for BSF schools is to draw up their visions for learning, shared with their stakeholders and translated into designs for appropriate learning spaces. It is vital these correlate with the wider strategies for change and regeneration at local and regional level. If there was a slogan to stitch into a BSF banner, it would be: "One conversation – one opportunity". And that's because it's no longer possible for a school to remain an island.

Jacqueline Valin, executive head teacher of Southfields Community College in Wandsworth, south London, is a BSF consultant with the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services, and is taking her school through BSF. She says: "It's important that you have a clear vision of what you want to achieve, with a focus on teaching and learning and eventually having excellent outcomes for the young people.

"But more important, remember you are working within the wider community. So you have to make partnerships with the local primary schools, the Primary Care Trust, the safer neighbourhood team, the police, remembering every school is now part of a Children's Trust. Therefore, you should be mindful of the key performance indicators within your trust which may link into your school's strategy for change which, in turn, will inform the local authority strategy for change.

"That is important in terms of the Every Child Matters agenda. So you could be looking at levels of obesity within your particular ward or in your primary schools. Is that having an impact on your school in terms of the healthy agenda? There's also the wider agenda of 14 to 19, the coming of diplomas and how you are going to work in partnerships with schools and colleges to ensure the best outcomes for individual students."

Ex-head teacher and BSF consultant Paul Hanbury has done pioneering work in Solihull where the local authority has incorporated BSF into its strategy for urban regeneration. He alerts school leaders and their BSF stakeholders to three key changes. These are: the rapidly changing climate in governance and leadership, shifting from a central government-driven ideology to a local agenda; the recognition that schools should be seen as a collaborative group of institutions providing a service to the wider community; and the shift in the way things are learnt to a more individual basis – although he says: "We are still hidebound by a mass exam system".

He says: "While it's important we keep control of good-quality teaching, it's equally important this is seen in the context of social services involvement, the health of the local community, the facilities they have for leisure, retail, keeping fit, the housing available and good transport links and employment opportunities. All those fit around the school, and the school is part of the incubation of all those things."

Get the picture? We can bring in complexity, but let's keep our focus simple: "One conversation – one opportunity".

For more information, visit www.nationalcollege.org.uk/future

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