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The examination of these six projects has thrown into relief a number of important points.
1) Using the environment. The environment provides a richly rewarding starting point for active citizenship and may prove equally attractive to boys and girls. It is the TASK (gardening, physical challenges on residential) which enables main stream students to relate to special students in the first place. Where projects began as a simple, onsite garden or offsite residential experience, the outcomes have all been greater than imagined with plans laid for bigger things, including improvements to other parts of the campus and even moving the special school to the community partner school site.
2) The significance of active citizenship with special students lies in its 2 way benefits and the sense of equal value.
3) The surprising range of strengths within a group of special students.
4) The wide range of possible curriculum links.
5) A sense of excitement can be traced throughout, suggesting that empowerment is not confined solely to students.
6) Every school has deepened its community links.
7) Commercial activity is proven to work.
8) Start up funding may be essential.
9) Collaborative work with mainstream schools more than doubles the value of the project for both.
Where partnerships between special and mainstream schools is consciously a part of the work related curriculum, plans have evolved towards serious enterprise.
The size, scope and sources of additional funding has grown accordingly to include eg SRB. Local entrepreneurship based in the local school may be less frightening to hard to reach groups such as `estate mums`. As we have seen, projects can develop to the point when they take on paid staff and turn low achieving adults into trainers. Outside training inputs can ensure continuous improvement and new developments. Such work may be on or offsite and may be a small but important source of energy in environmental enhancement programmes. This may be significant for regeneration, the cost of unemployment benefits and of great use to the school when seeking funding. There are known links between community enhancement and crime reduction. Such visible and large-scale community work may allow special students to create a career as a community volunteer where employment is less of an option. This must be better than a career solely as a permanent adult education student.
Given the extraordinary benefits of working in a student led, work related and real life way, there is an urgent need to establish equal value for academic and vocational work. For some special students the project might provide the only work experience of his/her life - although the sheer scale of the enterprise in some schools suggests that they could be a powerful source of work opportunities in their own right. The potential for on and off site commercial enterprise abounds.
The Barclays New Futures experience clearly shows that projects could not have developed - or even started in many cases - without external funding. Most of the 700 odd projects continued after the initial funding ran out - true sustainability - thus demonstrating the enormous impact of start up funding, particulary when allied to external support.
Funding must become more accessible to smaller organisations, especially when they need larger amounts. As things stand, we expect people already doing fulltime work to develop new ways to reach agreed social, educational and employability goals. That is hard enough but it makes no sense at all to expect them to then to join in an unequal, undignified and clumsy bidding process for money to do it with.
Could it be in society`s interests to change a system perceived to reward large and already successful organisations at the expense of new and pioneering work by small applicants? At the moment it still looks as though the majority of funding goes to what appears to be `safe` ie known organisations, leaving a very large number of applicants chasing a depleted pot of money. As active citizenship helps to spawn ever more community projects, the number of new and inexperienced applicants will rise.
Special schools are also saying they have to work extra hard and expect far too many refusals if they seek more than just minor funding. We need to find a better way to shortlist and support such bids. Could we do more to move mainstream funding from current payments to the usual agencies and middle people to enterprises developing real, sustainable outcomes? The likelihood of misuse of money by a community enterprise, especially one arising from a school, seems rather small. The possible sums of money involved, compared to ritualistic payments to consultants and other "experts" should be re-considered. In the private sector a considerable sum is reserved for "research and development" costs, with an expectation of "failures" amongst the successes. If there is a commercial case for risk then there should surely be one where the outcome is the enhancement of voluntary effort, particularly as much of it will help government to hit its own targets. The case for simplified access to funding is urgent.
Could designated funding be generated by all the stakeholders - ie including those agencies concerned with youth employment, regeneration etc? AND, could society decide that some of this work is more relevant to society`s needs than some of the tasks currently undertaken by senior staff?
Collaboration, especially between mainstream and special schools, leads to ideas and skills multiplying as per the magic porridge pot. A partnership has twice the opportunities to attract resources and buying power is considerably enhanced. There is a particular value in involving special students in the delivery of community services - between them they may have strength, reliability, ideas and wide networks. Special schools are a pool of expertise in working with difficult student behaviour. Their staff has access to skills and equipment of interest to mainstream staff struggling to contain disaffected students. Mainstream staff can offer large, specialist resources and subject specific expertise. Business in the Community has a "Community Partner" scheme for two- way help in achieving linked targets.
Attempts to gain specialist school status are enhanced by the sort of whole-hearted collaboration which can arise between mainstream and special schools, whilst the students gain credibility in the eyes of the community.
Exchanges seem an especially bright idea as we come to terms with the demands of real citizenship training. Is there a website somewhere, which could make this easier - linking schools from across the world or within the UK who want to exchange ideas about active citizenship? Could there be funding? Both mainstream schools reported feelings of support and new learning from their special colleagues and students.
Parts of the media may need some education in the meaning of "inclusion" if they are to avoid charges of prejudice against work with special needs people. One school reports deafening silences even to news of events involving VIP's.
Staffing demands are high; a willingness to "go the extra mile" is an important model of responsible work and quality assurance but cannot be sustained indefinitely. There is a need for new thinking on the role of work related curriculum staff so that the overall management of projects, especially where commercial enterprises evolve, can take place during normal working hours.
Logistics may prove the most difficult aspect - finding time to do anything, finding matching time to meet partners, remembering to book the mini-bus, getting all helpers police checked, parental permissions, medication and other care issues, contingency plans, dry clothes. Helpers are essential. One challenge for everyone is behaviour and coping with limitations. This applies to everyone present.
Special schools may have more flexible time than mainstream partners, so that the creation of parallel timetabling and curricula is possible.
These projects can be very useful for disapplication programmes and alternative curriculum ideas, providing a safe environment for needy mainstream students and a brand new opportunity to develop a skill, show another side of themselves and even become a leader taking management responsibilities eventually. More tractable students may well see career possibilities, trying out roles in design, media, organisation, a new practical skill, ICT and management. What safer place to have a go?
Taking this work into primaries in some form helps with transition and positive peer role models and may attract additional staffing help.
The first team of students to learn new skills gain again from planning the training of their peer successors.
The clearest citizenship challenge lies in the broad spectrum of "communications". Cameo: during a residential a very quiet mainstream girl helps an especially difficult special student to walk a full mile at night. It normally takes an hour to persuade him to walk 10 steps into school. The presence of these projects provides active citizenship material for pyramid groups of primaries to study eg on a Citizenship Day.
Opportunities for equal value abound. Cameo: on a camping residential a girl special student, weary of constantly clearing up behind the adults puts all their dirty cups into a bucket and tells them to do their own dirty work.
There are many opportunities for playing a starring role e.g. a special student with some communication skills addressing an inclusion conference of VIPs - unthinkable a year ago. Benefits should be noted and linked to school aims. Student gains should be well recorded for their ROA's.
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that special schools provide an excellent arena for quality active citizenship. They have the power to offer projects to mainstream partners from a position of strength based on expertise, special equipment and the undoubted talent of special needs students for bringing out the best in the most unlikely people. In this small review at least, the special students emerge as the stars, not simply for doing well themselves, with support from mainstream students but for inspiring a wide range of community partnerships with benefits extending far beyond our remit to report.
1) How these studies were produced
CSV won a DfES Small Programmes grant to produce and disseminate material about active citizenship with special schools. Six schools in the South West- 4 special and the mainstream partners of two of them - were approached with an offer to accept a small sum of money for their schools in return for information as requested.
Five of them were Barclays New Futures award winners in their own right and well known to the co-ordinator/editor who was the regional adviser to the projects. All six were using the environment in differing ways.
A single meeting was held to agree the way forward and hear each others experiences. Teachers went away and wrote an article about their project which was then fleshed out in a telephone interview. A framework of key points for comparison evolved to enable quick searches for information eg What did they all do about reflection?
A second meeting seven months later commented on the edited work so far and explored in detail ways to disseminate the work using existing networks.
2) The impact of BNF funding and support on the projects
Four of the six schools concerned received Barclays New Futures awards of £3K and another had £7K which covered working with a partner school, our sixth member. The funding was important, enabling the purchase of equipment, covering the costs of travel and some teacher time. All six are continuing without BNF funding. This holds true for most of the 700 odd projects supported in this way, which seems to suggest that start-up money, with support alongside, may generate quality projects, which become sustainable.
3) Relevant websites
Use this list to inspire your choice of partners and new developments as well as to gather information.
4) Qualities of a successful team
There are many qualities to be found in a successful team. This list summaries some of those that we found.
5) The perfect project
Does it exist? See some of our ideas here.
6) Collaborative working through residentials
Aspects of facilitation in collaborative working between special and mainstream schools:
Reinforcing the experience:
The value of this includes the technical skills to present Power Point, reinforcing memories and thereby enhancing a sense of identity and self worth. Such material is useful for PSHE.
Residentials produce "normal" teenage activities to discuss, from the details of adventurous activities to boy/girl attractions, and are therefore an important way to feel included in mainstream life.