October 2020 edition: Remaining True to Vision and Values in a Post-Lockdown World

Remaining True to Vision and Values in a Post-Lockdown World

When we opened Reach Academy Feltham in 2012 it was with the conviction that we would deliver a life of choice and opportunity for our pupils only if we built strong relationships with families and sought to offer a range of support, especially in moments of adversity. One of our first appointments was our Family Support Worker, still an integral member of our staff, and she did her first home visit months before the school opened.

Over the ensuing eight years we have sought to refine our vision for our role in our community and how we could best support and maximise our impact. In 2017 we set up the Reach Children’s Hub, seeking to develop a cradle to career provision for Feltham, inspired by models of joined-up delivery from the US and organisations like the Bromley By Bow Centre. By March and the start of lockdown we offered antenatal classes and parenting programmes, support for parents into work and adult education, and youth provision and mentoring and support for older young people across the community.

Like many schools, we were fortunate enough to be able to support our community through lock-down. We kept our pupils learning, removed barriers and offered material support where it was needed, but we were also part of a major community mobilisation, working with schools, churches, food banks and local charities to amplify what we could do individually.

We aspire to building on these relationships in a post-lockdown world. In the past year we have been a sponsor of a new Citizens UK alliance in Hounslow, which represented a shift in our thinking as we committed to putting "people before programmes”. We have embraced the pedagogy and have seen it have a powerful impact on our relationships with the community. Parents, local residents and students have come together over the last 6 months and led a local campaign to improve safety on the High Street in Feltham, which culminates next month in a big online meeting with power-holders. This, our first campaign, has been an empowering experience for the individuals involved but has also given us the opportunity to bring new institutions onboard as members of the alliance and develop a representative, cross-sector partnership.

The key to successful community organising is listening. I was challenged when asked how often I have conversations in my community without an agenda, a key principle of community organising, and this also resonated with my reflections on the Black Lives Matter movement over the summer - I realised we had more work to do internally if we wanted to truly hear, understand and act on what the community had to tell us. We started anti-oppression training as a team in August and the focus of our next campaign will be listening to people’s experiences of racism and social injustice.

We kept our pupils learning, removed barriers and offered material support where it was needed, but we were also part of a major community mobilisation, working with schools, churches, food banks and local charities to amplify what we could do individually.

Ed Vainker

Alongside organising we are launching a complementary project in the coming months. Where the Harlem Children’s Zone focused on direct delivery in strengthening the cradle to career pipeline, a model launched in Cincinnati, Strive, sought to do so using collective impact principles. We are planning to bring that approach to Feltham, building on longstanding relationships in the community and momentum developed through lockdown collaboration to crystallise a shared vision for our community.

What does this mean for our growth as a Multi Academy Trust? We have a second school due to open in Feltham but what further growth should we be pursuing? We have found that being in different trusts to local schools need not prove to be a barrier to working together. Hounslow has a thriving Education Partnership (HEP):  working on shared CPD and focused on the interests of vulnerable pupils but collaborating more widely – recently submitting a bid for 170 places on the Kick Start Youth Employment programme. Beyond HEP we have worked with local schools to feed our community during lockdown and shared emergency grants for our most vulnerable. Last week we launched a Foundation Degree in Early Years with staff from six local schools and nurseries.  We can work together in Feltham regardless of school type and governance.

Given our belief in the importance of being embedded in a community, growth beyond Feltham is not a simple undertaking. However, we believe that the all-through model as the basis for a cradle to career provision and a rich community offer combined with a rigorous curriculum, great teaching and a strong behaviour system grounded in strong relationships, could make a difference in communities most in need.

We have resolved to focus on what we know – all-through schools that serve pupils from 2-18, and new schools. We are starting to identify and foster groups in communities around the country interested in exploring this model. The first is in Middlesbrough, made up of teachers and educational leaders, interested in exploring whether the Reach model could help to ensure more young people in their communities are able to live lives of choice and opportunity.

We think this approach brings the best of both worlds – a founding team embedded in the community and able to adapt the model and approach to suit their community, with an existing model and an organisation that can support them to implement it. We are looking forward to the post-lockdown chapter.