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Let's stick together

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What constitutes 'outstanding' community cohesion according to Ofsted? Tony Thornley looks at schools that are doing more than ticking boxes on race and equality and are being recognised for it.

Since September 2007, schools have been required to promote community cohesion. The Diversity and Citizenship Curriculum Review earlier that year said: "We passionately believe that it is the duty of all schools to address issues of 'how we live together' and 'dealing with difference', however controversial and difficult they might sometimes seem."

Having worked in inner city areas such as Bradford and Leeds, where ethnic and social tensions have sometimes posed huge challenges for schools, I agree just as passionately. It is particularly pertinent where a combination of parental choice and school location has produced schools which are segregated by class or race.

The DCSF guidance on community cohesion1 defines four dimensions to community:

  • the school community

  • the local community within which the school is situated (including city or LA area)

  • the UK community

  • the global community

So how might a school get an 'outstanding' Ofsted judgement for community cohesion?

Here are some examples of outstanding practice from four schools I know. Three achieved outstanding judgements for community cohesion this term and the fourth is having a big impact on its local, very deprived, community. Each has used different strategies.

Allerton High School

Allerton High is a thriving school on the outskirts of Leeds. There is a significant minority of Asian heritage students and smaller numbers from black and other backgrounds.

As might be expected in this mixed community, students hold a wide range of religious beliefs, including representation from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths. The school's free school meals entitlement (FSM) is around the national average.

Allerton got a "good with outstanding features" inspection report in October with an outstanding judgement for community cohesion. It achieved the latter by giving inspectors a four page evaluation of all of its work to promote cohesion. This covered all the territory in the table overleaf, quoting many specific examples as evidence.

Inspectors particularly liked the use of the school by community faith groups and the resulting development of students' understanding of cultural differences; the school's "excellent" personal, social and health education (PSHE) programme; its promotion of spiritual, moral, social and cultural values; and, crucially, the way students from different backgrounds work together.

Horsforth School

Horsforth School is also in the Leeds suburbs but serves a more affluent community. It is 93 per cent white with no significant minority groups. FSM entitlement is 8 per cent.

Horsforth was inspected earlier this term when its community cohesion work was also judged to be outstanding. The features of its provision which inspectors highlighted were:

  • the way it works with parents, the local community and other local schools (including secondary schools) - benefiting their own students as well as the other partners.

  • the quality of the school's PSHE curriculum, a major contributor to "excellent" development of students' spiritual, moral, social and cultural values.

  • the school's inclusive ethos, demonstrated in its promotion of equality of opportunity and good race relations - the inspection report singles out "an exhilarating year 11 assembly where all students considered the need to value the rich diversity of other cultures" (cunning scheduling there).

  • all students make good progress, including the most vulnerable and those at risk of under-achieving.

  • ethos - a family atmosphere in a large school.

  • students' respect for adults and their peers.

  • opportunities for community participation, through local, national and international events.

North Liverpool Academy

North Liverpool Academy is situated in the shadow of Anfield Football Stadium and has been open for two years. It serves a very deprived (40 per cent FSM), almost entirely white community. The academy has yet to have a full inspection but progress so far is good.

Their community project 'Future Search: Young people shaping the future' has been very successful in promoting community cohesion. The idea, part of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust's (SSAT) student voice initiative, gives students opportunities to lead discussions about their vision of the future with community representatives.

The initial two-day conference, held at Liverpool Football Club, was a huge success - as captured in an excellent video, extracts from which have been shown to all students. The upshot has been the establishment of separate student/community groups to discuss Every Child Matters aspects and support parental learning.

Prince Henry's Grammar School

Prince Henry's Grammar is a comprehensive serving the town of Otley in West Yorkshire. The ethnic mix is very similar to Horsforth but with a lower FSM. The school had an Ofsted aspect visit this term on community cohesion. Inspectors wanted answers to the questions:

  • How well does the school understand its local communities, for example, their needs, impact on the curriculum, parental involvement?

  • How does the school provide students with the knowledge and skills to become responsible citizens?

  • Do all students achieve well? Do they understand each other's culture/faith/language? Do outcomes demonstrate equality of access and opportunity?

The school brainstormed these questions, then assigned a senior leader to each to identify relevant evidence. They were able to produce a very extensive list. Important aspects that contributed to the outstanding judgement were: inclusion demonstrated in student outcomes; Every Child Matters links in all lesson plans - and evident in the teaching; impact of the language specialism; and a successful, thematic approach to personal, social, health and citizenship education.

In presenting the evidence, the school stressed that their approach was embedded in daily practice and that they were not putting on a special display. Interviews with students quickly confirmed that! HMI oral feedback noted: "outstanding personal development", "a fantastic collection of things happening in a very vibrant school" and, unusually, "a very pleasurable experience for the inspection team". Ofsted praise doesn't get much higher than that.

Tony Thornley is a former headteacher and inspector and is the author of the Guide to Self-evaluation. The latest electronic version is available via the ASCL website or bookorders@ascl.org.uk for 8.

Outstanding community cohesion

To achieve Ofsted's highest standard in regards to community cohesion, you will have to demonstrate that you develop students' understanding, and their opportunities to participate where relevant, in each of these dimensions. Ofsted's guidance Using the Evaluation Schedule (September 2008) is helpful. In this table, I have translated their definitions of good and outstanding community cohesion with some suggestions about relevant supporting evidence.

Criterion How you might demonstrate it

'Good' criterion in black

'Outstanding' criterion in orange

The school is effective in ensuring equality of opportunity by removing barriers to participation and eliminating variations in outcome.

The school's promotion of equalities and elimination of discrimination is good or outstanding.

Statutory compliance: policies on race, disability, gender equality and for recording and dealing with racist incidents are in place and are monitored and evaluated. All groups of learners have equal opportunities to participate in and benefit from what the school provides. Key performance indicators (student progress, attendance, exclusions) are analysed at group level - especially for the most vulnerable/underachieving/ minority/shrinking groups; any group differences are explained and addressed.

The school has a clear understanding of what it needs to do to promote community cohesion, based on a sound analysis of need. There is an effective strategy for engaging with the local community.

There are clear cohesion strengths in the school's internal community and in its role with local partners.

Evidence, for example in the school improvement plan, that community cohesion is taken seriously and that there are strategies in place to improve it. These could include an audit of need, activities undertaken and evidence of their impact on students and the community. If a specialist school, how the community dimension is making a difference, and not simply in local primary schools.

The school's teaching and curriculum increase/have a significant impact on students' understanding of the UK and global communities, help students to learn about and understand others, value diversity and promote shared values.

An audit and evaluation of the relevant aspects of the school's curriculum, including citizenship, and extra-curricular activities. Relevant lesson observation information. Students' views.

Positive interactions between all learners and staff are successfully encouraged.

The school's ethos and promotion of equality make an important and beneficial contribution to cohesion.

The day-to-day ethos in the school, perhaps evidenced by visitors' feedback. Students' views, for example of racism and bullying. Evidence of relationships and mutual collaboration in lessons.

Learners have regular opportunities to participate in the community and are active in working with others from different ethnic, religious and socio-economic backgrounds.

The participation and positive interactions between groups of students, parents/ carers and staff make an important and beneficial contribution to cohesion.

Records of students' participation in the community and feedback from community partners. Evaluation of how well students from different backgrounds collaborate - in lessons and around school. Predominantly mono-cultural schools will need to show how they give students opportunities to meet and work with others from different backgrounds. Those with a more diverse population will need to show that students from different groups work together, as well as considering if the demographic mix is sufficient to demonstrate all aspects of the criteria.

The school's self-evaluation of its community cohesion work is accurate, covering all the areas above.

A good SEF Section 6b

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