Bear with me as I wobble, like a Scooby Doo dream sequence, into an imaginary world. It is a world where our schools genuinely become the heart of a community; where NO parent is resentful of their own school experiences and sees a visit to school as a normal part of their week; where the local press regularly mention schools for positive reasons and advertise and support activities occurring every week. A world where a school building being ignored as a community hub is unheard of. However, in reality, while there are some great examples of this around the country, it is a dream which seems far, far away.
Some of us work in huge buildings which, to all intents and purposes, close to the public at four o’clock every day. These buildings have corridors filled with computer classrooms, twenty PCs in each. They have classrooms designed for cookery, with equipment in spades. They have music rooms with pianos, guitars, you name it. You’ll find Science Labs, a library, gymnasium – often with up-to-date exercise gear, Drama studios, Art Studios. Not to mention classrooms aplenty. And all of these, while being utilised all day are, in effect, closed to the public at about four o’clock. There is something wrong about that.
So, in this imaginary world school buildings are in use until ten every night. Adult learners are becoming proficient in cooking and baking after developing interest through a current TV contest. They go home and cook healthy meals for their families.The Technical department is in full flow as parents are being taught how to create wonderful things with wood, which they give as Christmas gifts to relatives. We can hear a Gareth Malone-style choir full of parents rehearsing for the end-of-year concert. A computer suite has a CV writing class; a creative writing class; a basic computing skills class. The community is alive in a community building.
Of course, many changes had to be made to come to this place. More teachers were trained and paid for. Some teachers work from two until ten for a couple of weeks every month. Kids still leave at four but, after an hour of cleaning and tidying, people start arriving for the evenings work. Parents can see their child’s classroom, perhaps chat to teachers, look at the work being done. Parents Evenings, occurring once a year, are a thing of the past. It took a huge culture shift and commitment from everyone but we all got there in the end…
However, like all episodes of Scooby Doo, the dream sequence ends and we unmask the real culprit. The biggest block to progressing to the sort of scenario I’ve outlined here is cost. It certainly would cost money. It certainly would involve a lot of commitment and dedication from a lot of people. But think of the investment in community. Think of the rise in literacy and numeracy levels, the health and fitness of the community, the parental involvement. Think of the fabulous community use of a building which had been under-utilised. It’s not a case of asking how could we afford it. How can we afford not to?