It takes a community to educate a child
Geoff Jones, Marketing Director of ParentMail, explores the role of community engagement for schools
Posted by Julian Owen | December 16, 2018 | School life
community, geoff-jones, parentmail, becta, curriculum

Let’s think about the African proverb, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ – the idea of neighbours, friends and extended family all pitching in to offer advice and support to new parents. It is certainly an appealing concept, even if it’s a privilege that few of us enjoy to the full in our fast-paced, high-tech society.

However, the suggestion that shared responsibility is important in bringing up children rings true. In fact, I would take this a step further and argue that it takes a whole community to educate a child.

A source of support for schools

For some years now, educationalists have championed the concept of parental engagement. Since the groundbreaking research by BECTA, the former British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, on the impact of engaging parents in their child’s education and the importance of technology in achieving this, schools have been increasingly involving parents in their child’s school life.

The benefits of this approach are clear – where a parent is engaged with their child’s learning, they are much better equipped to support their child through their education journey. But perhaps it’s time for schools to take parental engagement to the next level and embrace community engagement.

In a time of continuing budget cuts and debates about the balance of subjects in the curriculum, there has never been a better time for schools to seek the support of the communities around them. 

Reaching out to organisations may sound like a time-consuming project, but like parental engagement, once you have a strategy in place and the tools to support it, it can be very straightforward to achieve.

Putting business into education

A small business might not feel it has much to offer its local school beyond providing the funds for some new computers, or a bench for the playground. But if schools engage positively and regularly with businesses and create a list of specific requests for help, they are likely to receive much more meaningful support.

Some schools are starting to look to local businesses, for example, accountancy firms or solicitors’ practices, to offer work experience placements for pupils, provide guest speakers in assembly or hold careers workshops. And there are plenty of creative ways to make these events work for both sides. 

Geoff Jones

At one school, a local entrepreneur hosted a Dragons Den-style event where groups of pupils pitched their innovations. The business built some positive relationships with the school, and pupils gained some new business skills along the way.

In fact, schools with good local business connections could find they have the ideal training ground to prepare pupils for employment. This would be a particularly valuable way to encourage businesses to share their expertise, because many young people seeking jobs have no experience of how to sell themselves through the application process, and little knowledge about what employers look for from their new starters. 

By inviting a whole range of local businesses, from shops to hair salons, car dealers to restaurants, schools can enlist the help of employers to show young people what a good CV looks like, take part in interview role-plays and give them an insight into the world of work.

Getting the message across

But could the community help schools promote the wellbeing of their pupils too? With concerns about mental health, online safety and cyber bullying frequently hitting the headlines, tackling these issues has become a priority. But schools don’t always have the time to devote to really getting to the heart of these problems.

That’s where the local police force and health organisations could help, particularly if the school has already built up a rapport with them.

Of course, community engagement needs to lighten the load not add to it, but by extending the use of parental engagement technology into community engagement, schools can create positive connections for the future, which open up new opportunities for everyone involved.