Building Experiences

A Legacy Group - Improving The School Environment.
Another Way Of Leaving The School

Legacies in the School Environment

This idea is for School Managers who wish to improve their teaching and learning environment and at the same time enhance their pastoral curriculum provision. The approach can embrace the whole-school community, be used to promote internal organisational objectives and can lead to the development of other external links and networks.

Introduction

Most schools will devise some way to celebrate with their pupils, their leaving. As well as the usual party, this paper might help you to think of other ways to mark this annual occurrence.

Schools wishing to make environmental improvements, both internal and external to their buildings, only have to carry out an audit. The school can determine the participants in any audit. On the one hand, it might be limited to middle and senior managers – alternatively the more far-sighted will include and incorporate the observations of as many representative groups of its community as possible. Defining this first step in the process is important since it can inform action, create new opportunity, engender participation, be a platform for leadership, achieve organisational goals, support organisational culture, create a feeling of belonging - or not.

An audit will result in a list of ‘things that we could do’ which can then be prioritised against other considerations – practical, financial, educational, and so on. It might form an implementation list for a manager responsible for buildings – it could result in a number of curriculum opportunities for staff with particular interests. It might be perceived as so overwhelming and unachievable that doing anything does not become a priority.

This document advocates and promotes an approach which will allow any school to translate its mission and ethos into practice whilst improving its learning and working environment. It is based on practice, experience, experimentation and study over 20 years in comprehensive, state education. It recognises that the success of any initiative, no matter its value or how well conceived and executed, relies on the commitment of the school’s leadership - its Headteacher and Senior Management Team.

It advocates that schools should promote an environmental ethic, and that in part, this can be practically realised through self-help initiatives focussed on its buildings and their immediate surroundings, and which draw upon its whole school community.

A School – It could be one you know

This school is working to translate its mission statement – “Striving for Excellence” - in a manner which understands that the quality of the total school environment has implications for the quality of the teaching and learning process. The school recognises that ‘self-help’ is an important principle underpinning its goal to foster the autonomous learner. It also recognises that this principle can be extended to incorporate more tangible expression in its built environment. It realises it has the capacity and ability of putting into practice a process that can embrace the whole school community – in the widest sense - and can draw on its support and participation in many ways. It does not suffer feelings of helplessness engendered by dwindling budgets, resulting in a set of priorities that do not include concepts of the quality of the total school environment.

It understands how the built environment can have a dehumanising impact on all people. It does not want these effects to impact on its pupils to the extent that they mitigate against teaching and learning. This is thus a shared and common concern for all involved with the School community and its attempts to allow all its members to thrive.

The School recognises that by fostering an ethos of quality in the total school environment - through incremental, achievable goals in its Development Plans - it can set itself new benchmarks, new targets and thus feel it can place itself on a spiral of organisational growth, always striving for excellence.

Forming A Legacy Group with Pupils as Decision-Makers

The simple philosophy behind the practice outlined in this document, was summarised in the comments of the LEA Inspector for PSE, who on being made aware of the School’s Legacy Group, remarked,

"Its like getting everyone to think, not ‘what am I getting for Christmas? but more - ‘what am I giving for Christmas ?"

The idea of a Legacy Group, made up of pupils, staff, support staff, governors and parents was presented and accepted at a whole Staff Meeting. The aim was to give a group of Year 11 pupils, embarking upon their final year at the School, £500 to spend on leaving a legacy at the School.

How any such sum is realised can be part of the process itself. It can draw in local community groups, parents, the pupils – depending on what the school wishes to gain from the entire activity. It might be to strengthen links with its business community, or with a local environmental organisation. The possibilities are endless.

The pupil-group, representing their whole year-group, comprised a male and female from each tutor group, chosen by their peers under the guidance of their tutor. This group was then complemented by the Head of Year, a member of the support staff, a governor and a parent.

Together, their task was to arrive at some form of tangible legacy, within their budget, which they could leave behind for others in the whole school community to enjoy. The pupil’s guidance was simply,

“Based upon your time at the School, what would you like to see in the school environment which you feel would improve it?”

A ‘Democratic’ Process in Action

The process of discussion, deliberation, prioritising, and selection took place over a period of a term, during school-time. It was based upon the intimate knowledge and experiences of all concerned. It allowed for feedback and debate between and amongst the whole school community in an attempt to create a democratic process – and for this process to be a learning exercise for all concerned. It also made for very good press in the local community.

Over the first 3 years of its existence, the complexity of the final legacy depended very much on the time and effort the Legacy Group felt they could devote to it.

In one case the group decided on a raised pond with seating in the courtyard. The group researched, designed and costed a structure, and on costing it out decide they would have to come in at weekends with a hired professional bricklayer to construct it. The shape was based on a roman collecting tank – visited by all Year 7 pupils during a Geography & History Field Day. A good curriculum ‘tie-up’. In another, an artist-in-residence was hired who worked with younger pupils to produce planters based upon a traditional African method of firing clay. The environment was enhanced, as was the curriculum – through the pupil-led Legacy Group.

Process More Than Product

I am sure that the making of both of these environmental improvements are the kind of things in which many schools become involved. Some have more lasting qualities than others – both in design, construction and materials.

But the important point is – how are the environmental improvements arrived at?

The Legacy Group idea is for those who want to extend the manner in which they give pupils an opportunity to be involved in and take responsibility in decision-making that enhances the learning and working built environment for the whole-school community.

It involves a carefully conceived, planned and managed intervention aimed at the whole school community. It can be used to seed other ideas and make other connections. The most creative managers and teachers can use it as a vehicle to realise and stimulate a number of organisational and goals. It can obviously embrace a wide-ranging number of National Curriculum subjects and areas.

 

Ethos and Symbolism

Perhaps the most potent force in the idea of a Legacy Group, is that school managers can embody the ethos of the school in the enactment of establishing such a group and supporting its work to fruition. Any final realisation allows for a symbolic expression of this ethos in the working and learning environment for all who come after. It allows any ethos to include an environmental ethic that tries to impress upon young people a message for life, which is, to:

Try to leave a place in a better condition than when you found it.

It can also be conceived as a fitting and symbolic gesture as pupils undergo their rite of passage - that of leaving their school for their next part of their journey. It is also a final symbolic gesture for this journey ahead since it raises the issues of giving and taking, issues of consensus decision-making, and issues relating to participation in matters to do with the community and the built environment.

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