Headlines: September 30th, 2003

Regeneration planners need to make it easier for schools to contribute to coherent local strategies rather than leaving them to work at arm’s length from renewal programmes. That is the conclusion of research carried out for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation by a team from Newcastle University.Their report says schools often remain disconnected from regeneration initiatives in their surrounding neighbourhoods, and that policy makers who demand to know why schools do not get involved in a wider range of renewal activities may be asking the wrong question.The researchers from Newcastle spent two years studying the contribution of schools to regeneration initiatives in two areas of the north of England. They found that all local primary and secondary schools were involved in community-related activities, including breakfast clubs, making facilities available for community groups and organising courses to help parents become more involved in their children’s learning.

They found that individual head teachers determined the level of community involvement and that their attitudes to regeneration schemes varied widely. Some regarded their schools as a community resource and opened facilities to local people and offered support services for families under stress, as well as community education programmes. Others saw the school’s main task as improving long-term opportunities for their pupils. Some of this group thought it was important to reach out to families and communities in support of children’s education, but others clearly viewed community engagement as a distraction. One head teacher described his school as a ‘safe haven’ providing children with an alternative to their lives in the community.

The research also found that location influenced the way that schools responded to renewal initiatives. In one study area, the schools drew most of their pupils from the surrounding neighbourhoods, making it easier to identify with the community. Schools in the other locality lacked that close connection because they had a wider catchment area. At the same time the two local education authorities took different approaches. One area had a history of community-led regeneration programmes, delivered through education and family support. In the other, regeneration had been led by housing services.

The report recommends a more coherent approach to involving schools in regeneration, including recognition that they are better equipped to tackle some of the risk factors in disadvantaged children’s lives than other agencies. Amendments to the national standards agenda, the report says, would help schools to take on a wider role and by removing unhelpful targets. New structures at local level, linking schools with other schools, as well as partnerships, agencies and community groups would also help them to play an active part without feeling overburdened.

The report, “Schools and Area Regeneration” is published for the Foundation by The Policy Press and available from Marston Book Services, PO Box 269, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4YN.