Schools can be more than a place where children are educated. They can also be a focus for community life, particularly in small communities where there are few other centres or amenities. They can be a place where children, parents, carers, grandparents, support networks and local clubs come together to learn and support each other.
The ways in which schools can become a community hub can vary. Schools often have facilities that can benefit local people, such as gyms and other leisure provision. Many families now attend computer-based training courses offered in schools outside of teaching hours that can help boost the skills of children and parents or carers. A report published in 2013 by Play Wales, ‘Use of school grounds for playing out of teaching hours’ includes a toolkit for school communities and their partners to assess the feasibility of making their school grounds available for children’s play outside of school time.
There are already moves towards strengthening links between schools and communities through the Flying Start programme. This is a Welsh Government initiative designed to improve access to childcare and to support the health and early learning of children, and is often run in primary schools that use their resources to deliver extra help for families in deprived communities. In May 2014, Estyn published a report called ‘Tackling deprivation and raising standards: Pupil deprivation’ which found that schools which successfully overcame the challenges of deprivation often provided out-of-hours learning opportunities tailored to pupils’ needs and using school facilities. We also found that strengthened community links reduced absence, improved behaviour, and raised parental support for education.
Partnership working between providers and other schools, parents, businesses and support networks is an important part of school life. Although it is not always feasible to share facilities, as a school may be too small or too far away, a community school can add real value to local life.
About the author: Estyn is the education and training inspectorate for Wales. Its function is to provide an independent inspection and advice service on quality and standards in education and training provided in Wales.