I’m a governor at an inner city Leeds primary school. Over 60 per cent of the children who attend the school are eligible for free school meals, and a very high proportion of children are considered by the official statistics to be suffering deprivation on multiple fronts, with all the individual stories of poverty and its associated problems that lie behind those statistics.
Broadly speaking the pupils can be divided into two groups – a white working class group whose families have lived in the area served by the school for generations. We also have a very diverse group of migrant children, from different African countries, from Eastern Europe and from Asia. Over 30 languages are spoken by children who attend the school. Children often enter school unable to speak English, and have to learn with us. We sometimes struggle to communicate with parents, particularly the mums because they don’t have much English themselves.
We really want to encourage greater engagement from parents, to get them more involved in their children’s learning and to help us to teach their children that education is something that is valuable to them. But when we have tried to engage with parents beyond a small, committed group who are involved in the governing body, we have struggled. Parents are happy to attend assemblies and concerts where they can see their children perform, but when we have tried to organise informal coffee mornings where parents can come and talk to us after they’ve dropped their children off, attendance has been minimal.
We also want to use the school as a vehicle to help the community. We have worked with specialist providers like the Workers Educational Association to run courses in computers skills and in English as a foreign language, but attendance of these courses has been low, and has tailed off as the courses have progressed. We think that the school could be used as a base for all sorts of activities that could enhance the skills and therefore the economic prospects of the parents, but given our limited success at this so far, we don’t know where or how to start.
We know that are in the main English, middle class professionals – our values and culture are not those of all the families that attend the school and the vocabulary we use and the way we think about the world is different.
- Is there anybody out there who has skills or experience of community development and engagement in the sort of area we serve who is interested in working with us?
- Does anyone else have any constructive ideas or suggestions for things we could do to disrupt poverty for our children and their families?
- If you do, please drop me an email and/or come and talk to me on Friday.
Guest Post from Andy Charlwood