January 4, 2017 at 12:33AM

From donning a plastic nose on Red Nose Day to carol singing for charity at Christmas time, UK pupils are usually pretty familiar with charitable giving. But sometimes charities take on a more crucial role within the education system, forging partnerships with schools that can have a huge impact on students’ educational and social development.

Some focus on skills: Volunteer It Yourself partners with businesses like Wickes to offer teenagers the chance to learn construction skills through renovating youth clubs and community centres. Others are about wellbeing: Southend-based charity Trust Links invites small groups of pupils from local schools to its garden which it says helps improve their self esteem.

Others are focused on pupil learning. Daniel Woodrow, headteacher at St Gregory CEVC primary school in Suffolk, was invited by local charity Education Exchange to take part in a project called Learning from Kenya. The charity was set up by former headteacher Dave Shorten, who knows the town of Wundanyi, in southern Kenya, where the charity helps fund a children’s home, and projects in health, IT training and business skills.

Learning from Kenya was not, primarily, a fundraising exercise. “It was more about how it could support learning,” says Woodrow. Although the year-long project was orchestrated by teachers in his geography team, they made sure it “filtered into as many aspects of the curriculum as possible,” he adds.

Whatever the pupils learned about, they made comparisons with Wundanyi. In maths they looked at bar charts of rainfall in Kenya; in English they heard traditional Kenyan tales. They watched a Kenyan gospel choir, adopted a pygmy hippo at London zoo and even visited the Kenyan embassy. Mimicking a project run by Education Exchange in Africa, the school gave each child £1: an investment they had to grow through entrepreneurial activities of their own design. The money raised was used to buy mosquito nets for a hospital in Wundanyi.

All this helped teachers to promote authentic learning, and broaden the worldview and moral development of their pupils. Woodrow believes the partnership was a success because the charity is small and hands-on, able to provide ongoing support, as well as knowledge, advice and materials.

‘We use sport to engage with young people’

Squeezed budgets can make such collaborations a target for cuts, while changes over the past decade have made the schools system more difficult for charities to navigate, according to a New Philanthropy Capital report published in April 2016. But the changes have also provided opportunities, the report continues, citing developing the teaching profession and addressing inequality as areas where charities can make a difference.

One of the charities highlighted in the report is Greenhouse Sports, which assigns coaches to work full-time in mainstream secondary and special educational needs schools in the most deprived areas of London.

The coaches are not only experts in a particular sport, they also act as mentors. “We use sport to engage with young people who might not engage with anyone else in the school,” says John Herriman, who joined Greenhouse Sports as CEO in August after four and a half years as executive director for the National Association of Head Teachers.

Herriman has an abundance of anecdotes about how Greenhouse Sports coaches have helped students to get better grades, avoid expulsion or avoid gangs. Sometimes coaches are asked to sit in on classes: students are much less likely to misbehave when their basketball coach is watching from the back of the room.

He is aiming to raise the profile of sports – as a tool to instil confidence and respect, as well as to boost physical activity among young people. In an increasingly fragmented education system, he also aims to help schools share best practice when it comes to dealing with disadvantaged and difficult students.

‘It has to feed in with the ethos of your school’

The charity City Year UK also places people in schools full-time: 18- to 25-year-old volunteers who, for a year, act as positive role models for pupils from disadvantaged communities. They take on a variety of activities, from tutoring students with disruptive behaviour or low grades to leading assemblies and after-school clubs.

Morningside primary school in Hackney, east London, has been working with City Year UK for just over a year. Janet Taylor, the school’s headteacher, assigns her seven volunteers to work with the children in the middle: not those with learning difficulties or behavioural problems, nor the highest achievers. “The kids who just get on with it, just tick along,” she says. As a result of the extra support, the pupils are “starting to shine”.

Morningside’s volunteers run a storytelling club, conduct science experiments with the pupils during their lunch hour, and have even set up a steel band. They’ve had a positive impact on attendance: every morning, wearing high-visibility jackets, they go to a nearby estate to pick up the children known for persistent lateness or poor attendance.

The school pays around £50,000 for the academic year – money that Taylor is already trying to ringfence. She did a lot of research before deciding on this particular partnership, and recommends others do the same.

“Make sure that you’re doing something that you believe in,” she says. “It has to feed in with the ethos of your school.”

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from Education | The Guardian http://ift.tt/2iDS9He