Gazette Article 6: “Sharing our teaching develops community”

Column 27.02.13 001Published in the Brentwood Gazette – 27th February 2013

Last week the founder members of Educating Brentwood celebrated a year of formal existence with some of the friends we have made since we started. Among many topics we discussed over our curry was whether our original reasons for existence were still relevant. There was no doubt expressed by anyone that they were.

A central concern then, as now, was how provision of education could best meet the needs of as many students as possible and, therefore, be of benefit to the local community.

A trigger for the setting up of our group was correspondence to this newspaper that ran down our local schools with little apparent evidence but based on incidents that did not remotely reflect the experience of the vast majority of pupils and students.

Happily such prejudice is now restricted to the odd web comment by anonymous trolls and the round up of education news in this newspaper is almost always positive. Indeed, two of my fellow “Gazette People” are current St Martin’s School pupils whose standard of writing is proof of the misinformed nature of the correspondence I referred to.

It is perhaps natural to focus on only the needs of your own family when considering the educational landscape but I have heard the phrase “I just want what’s best for my kids” a little too often over the past year or so.

What about everyone else’s?

By giving students the best possible educational chances we improve the likelihood of them being valued members of society. The greater the number of engaged students the better for a cohesive society, the better the options provided to engage them the higher the chances of that number increasing further.

I fear that the current governmental preference for competition between schools, including opening new schools in areas with surplus places, does not encourage those outcomes. It also undermines the development of a strong community.

Don’t complain to me about “unruly youths” or “feckless teenagers” if you are happy to deny proper resources to all our schools and restrict the choices that can be provided to them.

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I was delighted to read the recent letter to the Gazette from Garry Sapsford, the Head of P.E. at Shenfield High School, as I had been unaware of the extent of collaboration that already takes place to support sport provision in Brentwood.

We regularly hear about the school’s teams successes up to a national level but it is pleasing to note how it shares facilities and expertise to support the primary and secondary schools who are involved in the Shenfield Sports Partnership.

Until reading the letter, I was not aware of the links with local football, cricket, swimming and basketball clubs that exists either which broadens the benefits beyond those of school age.

Outside of sport, Brentwood residents may not be aware of the cross-school Local Delivery Group that works towards common priorities for all pupils of the schools involved. This includes invaluable pupil and parental support via the Extended Services team.

The Brentwood Learning Partnership Association gained charitable status last summer and seeks to raise funds to support these initiatives rather than relying on schools themselves having to find a contribution from their shrinking budgets. They deserve the town’s support in my view.

It is this collaboration that I believe we should champion as it brings local people together, encourages interaction and builds links that allow young people (and others) to see beyond their own immediate environment.

Ring-fencing facilities and resources in order to gain a possible advantage over other schools threatens these initiatives and undermines building a real community.

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In common with all who follow the @BCHSUpdates Twitter account, I enjoyed the illustrated commentary provided over half term of Brentwood County High’s ski-ing trip to Austria. I don’t know what the students thought of it but parents must have been reassured that Mr Drew decided to include himself in the party.

It struck me how easy social media can make it to follow trips. We were grateful to be able to keep tabs on how our son’s group got on recently as his school choir took part in Young Voices at the O2 thanks to text and Facebook updates provided by the staff on the trip. In our case however, they didn’t feature the Head at the top of a climbing wall!

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