'No man is an island.' and in the same light neither is a school. If a school is to prepare its pupils adequately for full participation in society then it must take every opportunity to underline the reality of that society, bringing them into contact with what society means in the here and now of the setting of the school. In an age when the media is continually portraying a wildly variant view of the values and motivation of communities, from a cul de sac in Melbourne to an inner city square in the east end of London, there is a need for the children to have a chance to develop their own concept of what their own community is, what it has to offer and what they can offer in return in order to live fulfilling lives within it.
A recent report from the Rural Development Commission 'Lifestyles in rural England' refers to the school, among other places, as a social 'glue'. A focal point for the community. Involving parents, the church, and other members of the community in the life of the school can, in my view, help the school to play this truly significant and appropriate role in the life of the community. We must therefore work to build on relationships, making our proper contribution to community life and so benefiting from what the community has to offer to enrich the education we provide.
Where a village school has been provided historically by the church the special relationship between them, being close both physically and spiritually, remains of utmost importance. As a school we can offer support to the church, providing premises for the Sunday school, youth group and other church meetings. I have visited a church where the Sunday school was moved to a Monday, run after school on school premises by clergy and members of the parish.
The school can do much to encourage greater involvement of the children in the church. Themes for outside giving, such as Christian Aid week, undertaken by the church can be explained and expanded upon in the context of school assembly, as I am sure they are already. Children love the challenge of designing and developing methods of raising money for charities such as this especially when they see the relevance of what that charity is trying to achieve.
As part of the R.E. curriculum the school aims to lift the veil of symbolism and liturgy to give a clear idea of what the church stands for, and what it is to be religious. In doing this it is hoped that the church becomes more accessible to the children, enabling them to contribute effectively to its life. Participation by children in special services, whether in the form of leading prayers, performing the Nativity or in music and singing may encourage children to think for themselves whether or not they might like to become more involved in the church, as a server perhaps, or a member of the church choir. A weekday community Eucharist on a monthly basis taking the place of a school assembly could do much to enhance the quality of their experience of worship providing an occasion where church, school and community are brought closer together, giving greater relevance to confirmation.
In its position as provider of the school we still look to the church to continue its contribution to the school's life. As a building it offers us an invaluable resource in many areas of the curriculum. Here there is great potential for enriching English, mathematics, science and technology as well as R.E. and the Arts. I would like to see children making full use of this valuable asset.
But the church itself is not the building. I would like to see the body of people that make up the church involved fully in the life of their school. As part of a stewardship campaign the church might encourage its members to examine their abilities and how they relate not only to the church and its work but also to the help they could give to their school. For example, hearing readers and helping with activities.
I would welcome the provision of display boards inside the church where regular and varied displays of children's work could be exhibited bringing the school closer into the community of the church and providing the children with a wider audience for their work. I enjoyed looking at some of the 'Selfish Monkey' stories and pictures to be found in the church.
Above all we look to the church as a place to worship, a place where our faith both as adults and as children, is supported through fellowship and through the spiritual guidance of the clergy. We must therefore aim towards a freedom of communication between staff, governors, clergy, parishioners and children, based on friendship and trust in an atmosphere where we can be mutually supportive.
Before looking towards the wider community of the village I would like to spend a little more time with the immediate community of the school, built up as it is of several groups, the children and their parents, the teaching staff, the governing body and supporting staff. All these groups must work smoothly together if the school is to operate at its full potential. In the same way the school can play its part in enriching the lives of the community it serves.
One of the first levels of contact with the local community is with the parents of the children in our care. What can we do for them? Legally we are obliged to report on the progress of their children and provide for adequate consultation with class teachers and the head as the need arises. In addition to this we can provide regular information evenings when an area or areas of the curriculum can be explored, enabling parents to understand more fully the work we expect their children to undertake. We can make sure that communication is as free as possible where appropriate with regular newsletters and accessible noticeboards. A reading record card can be a useful daily communication channel with individual parents.
I like parents to feel that they can talk to their child's teacher and look around the classroom after school. There are also times when a more formal invitation can be extended. Class led assemblies, plays and concerts are all occasions that can bring parents into school life.
Parents with young children not yet school age can find school a daunting proposition. Developing links with these parents must be important. In collaboration with the church 'mother and toddler' group and the playgroup pre-school activities might be provided for parents to use with their children at home. Introductions can be made to the staff and workings of the school and a room might be made available as a place for new and existing parents to meet on an informal basis, removing some of the psychological barriers and helping make this important step in their child's education as smooth as possible
We can ask for parental assistance in several areas. In a small school with few teachers it can be very difficult to provide that breadth of experience that a larger school with a larger staff can provide. Many parents have specialist talents that can be called upon to extend the breadth of the curriculum. These might include involvement in art and crafts such as pottery, or knowledge of natural history. Local farming families might give the children great insight into caring for living creatures and growing crops. Builders may show the technology used in their work and give the children a far richer experience than could be achieved through the television or text based learning.
Other parents who would not consider themselves specialists can still make a useful contribution to the school. Being an audience for a child's reading, helping to supervise a maths game so that all children in a small group can get the most out of it, or cooking with small groups of children would be very helpful. Workshops to assemble and create new resources, cover books, and repair battered musical instruments are another way in which parents can support their school.
An important area in which we must expect the support of our parents is in the ethos and discipline structures of the school. If we can better inform parents about the decisions we have to make, and get to know them on a personal as well as a professional level it makes it much easier to work together, in concert with the home where possible, to ensure that the school community is a comfortable place for both children and adults.
The school is in a good position to contribute to the life of a village. Within reason the school premises could be utilised for such activities as chess clubs, fantasy games and other quiet activities. This should give opportunity for children to be integrated across the age range, mixing with older youths and adults. Former pupils of the school might be involved in the running of such clubs and encouraged to value their links with the old school and its community. I have reservations about the provision of twilight activities, as they have come to be known, being run as a 'babysitting' exercise but on balance, where single parent families or where both parents find it necessary to work the after school time the provision of something positive to do can be helpful to child, parent and community alike.
Amongst the school's contributions to community life are school plays and musicals, the Christmas Nativities and concerts given in the village hall. It is hoped that children who enjoy this form of performance would be welcome to participate in the village Pantomime Society.
Performance of a less formal nature might for example take the guise of carol singing for the old peoplesí homes in the area. I welcome any opportunity to bridge the gap of years. It might be possible for the children to cook biscuits and cakes for them at special times of the year. This form of support might be extended to old people on the Social Services Meals on wheels list for example and not limited to institutions.
The village newsletter provides an area where children can make a positive contribution to the life of the village. In addition to the Headteacher's bimonthly report there is scope for widening the horizons of some of our young writers. In time as technology improves this may be developed to encompass drawings and other examples of children's work. It may at some point be practical for the producers of this publication to come to an arrangement with the school to collaborate on machinery, reducing cost for both parties, and further improving this valuable community asset.
In looking at what the school has to offer to the community we cannot ignore the most basic contribution being made all the time. The school, made up of children and staff is itself a truly significant part of the community. In the course of daily lessons we aim to foster a sound Christian ethos in which the children can progress in personal, social and moral development. Children in school, as in Church, are not only part of the society of the future; they are a vital component of the society of today.
In return the community has much to offer the school, helping in many of the areas of the National Curriculum laid down in the Dearing report. We can look to the local garage when considering a theme of transport, to the post office when approaching communication, to the recycling centre when focused on material science. The wealth of knowledge that exists in a rural community of the natural world would seem to be a rich vein to tap into if at all possible.
We look to the village to support the fundraising efforts of the P.T.A. and in some cases for sponsorship of special projects. Advertisements might appear in school production programmes, or even a school magazine to acknowledge this sort of support. The school would also continue to draw on the special resources that consist of the Village hall and Playing Fields.
The 'Lifestyles' report highlights a problem which must be acknowledged. Talking about the influx of new residents to rural areas it states..
Both existing residents and new residents had experienced significant social and cultural shifts that have occurred in Rural England. For some such experiences were characterised by feelings of being 'left out' or marginalised in what they thought of as their own place, as others moved in and brought with them relative affluence, influence, different political and social ambitions, and even a different view of what rurality was all about.
Any real moves towards innovation must of course be preceded by exhaustive analysis of the present situation and how moves might affect any members of the present community.
Involving the school in the church and wider community in order to develop in our children, and maybe also in other members of that community, better understanding of what it is to be part of that community must be our primary aim. In an age where all around us we see the spiritual element of life undermined and undervalued the school can do much to fill the gaps and bring people to a sense of caring and mutual respect, which can only be to the advantage of those involved.