Thursday, 26 July 2007

Back to schools of the future

I defy anyone not to want to give up the day job and become a teacher after meeting Anna Hassan.

Anna's been the head teacher of Millfields Community School in Hackney, East London for more than ten years.

It's a challenged area - more than 40 languages are spoken by the pupils and almost three quarters speak English as their second language.

The school was run down and dirty, staff morale was low and kids badly behaved. So she started doing small things that eventually made a bigger impact - cleaning up the staff room started to raise morale amongst teachers.

Then she tackled pupil behaviour by suggesting that teachers own negative attitude was a contributory factor. It caused a lot of arguements, but slowly the mood changed at the school with teachers and pupil behaviour improving. This then raised standards and pupil achievement. From being a school that some parents wouldn't touch with a barge pole, Millfields now has a 100 strong waiting list.

Millfields has pioneered the principle of the extended school - putting the school at the heart of the community.

Instead of just using the school for pupils between 8.30 and 3.30pm, everyone can use it. Mums can attend post natal classes, the toddlers go to the on-site children's centre and when they reach four, move to the nursery in the next room. Then at five, it's through anotehr door into the primary. This makes the transition between each absolutely seemless and a lot less stressful.

But it doesn't stop there - children can go to breakfast clubs and attend cheap after-school clubs where the can get a meal, have fun with art and more importantly, get looked after while their parents are away at work. Even the adults get a look in, using the schools rooms for everything from computer skills to help with numeracy and literacy. It's really a school for the community.

As you walk through Millfields, you see the difference that Anna's ethos of putting kids and learning at the heart of all decisions makes. The pupils are full of life but respectful, crying out "Hiya Anna" whenever she enters the room. One pupil loved Anna so much, she brought in a present - a lump of cannabis.

All schools will eventually be extended schools. But to make them work will mean dealing with three key challenges: assessing the really needs in the community, finding the inspriational heads and teachers to run them and giving them the freedom to run the schools the best way they can, allowing them to do what they do best - teach.

If we really want social mobility, raise the aspirations of our kids and provide REAL ladders of opportunity, we need more heads like Anna.

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