This was the second education forum, run as a partnership between the Hastings Exchange, the Hastings Community Network and The Education future’s trust, and this time focused on bringing together schools and communities to help improve outcomes for young people.
To this end it started with a coffee and networking session in the gym downstairs, in which local community organisations, service providers and community interest companies working with young people were invited to have a stand. This provided an opportunity for groups such as the RSPCA at Mallydams wood, Education Futures Trust, Challenger Troop, 18 Hours, Workingrite, In2Play, East Sussex Young Carers, Quit 51 -stop smoking service, Red Cross, Make Food, Sustrans, Hastings Voluntary Action, Hastings Pier Charity and Imagine Nation to make their materials available to those working in schools and to discuss their work with teachers. There were nearly 20 community organisations represented, and participants came from local schools, local and County Council, The University of Brighton and various community organisations, totalling around 60 participants.
The forum itself was chaired by Marie Casey, who currently chairs the Local Strategic Partnership on behalf of Hastings Community Network. She reiterated the purpose of these forums in bringing together different forms of knowledge, different practitioners and community members around a common issue of concern, urging people to use this as an opportunity to build connections with each other. She outlined the format of the morning, starting with a range of speakers from the university and moving to a response from community partners, schools and young people themselves after coffee.
The first presenter, Peter Passaro from the University school of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics provided an introduction to how Big Data might be used to support the development and thriving of local communities and as a research tool with young people. His slides .(Peter Passaro’s Presentation) entitled ‘What is Hastings?’ showed us what some of the current available big data tells us, in terms of local deprivation, but also pockets of activity, opportunities for employment and movement of young people. He introduced the idea of big data as a research tool and outlined his ideas for local projects involving platforms which openly track the issues raised on social media by young people and use it to dialogue with them on their priorities and aspirations.
He was followed by a short presentation by Tim Coxon, an educationalist from the University who spoke about ‘The Research Mindset’. Using an image from Alice in Wonderland Tim encouraged us to think about how research might help us to frame things differently and suggested ways in which students at the university might be able to help in data collection and supporting local research.(Tim Coxon presentation)
Nigel Sherriff from the School of Health Promotion provided an example of a recent research partnership between the University and East Sussex County Council which looked at the health education needs of young people and the significance of health and relationship education in schools. He provided examples of ways in which schools in Northern Europe had used community providers to deliver information around sexual health and quoted from his research across East Sussex on how young people feel they need more discussions of these and other health issues in school.(Nigel and David presentation) Final report available here, Summary Available here.
Finally Claire Stubbs from Boing Boing, a local organisation supported by the university and working to improve Resilience in young people outlined the meaning of resilience, provided some strategies for building resilience in young people and illustrated how attention to improving personal and relational wellbeing is crucial in achieving educational outcomes.(Claire Stubbs Presentation)
After coffee and a second visit to the community stands a group of young people and a parent and therapeutic lead, Sally Charles, from the Education Future’s Trust shared some of the work they had been doing together. The parent, Carole, talked of how her son had begun refusing and absconding from school, the worry this had caused her family and the support she had received from EFT in understanding the problems he was experiencing and in finding an alternative placement at New Horizons. The young people gave examples of work they had done individually with therapeutic storytelling and provided a view from inside of the pressures some of our young people are under.
Finally Ian McCrae from Ore Academy Primary School and Liz Miles from Silverdale Primary Academy spoke about the schools’ response to understanding and supporting young people in the area, and outlined a new programme as part of the Ofsted Costal Challenge – Hastings Thrives, that would be introduced into the area in the new year. This Thrive approach would use a neuroscientific approach to diagnosing individual need and supporting young people in overcoming the particular challenges they were facing on an emotional and academic level, and has been shown to transform children in just a few months . The Project will culminate in a Children’s Festival on the 10th June next year to celebrate the local children.
Amber Rudd, MP for Hastings and Rye joined us mid-way through the panel for questions, and the panel, coming straight after the introduction of the new Thrive programme, were mainly quizzed on how it might make a difference. One question from the floor asked whether it was not trying to fix a societal problem with individual personal solutions, rather than looking at broader societal causes, but Ian and Liz responded that this was one among several approaches that schools were taking. Other questions related to how community organisations might better make connections with schools, and use their resources to work for common ends. Amber Rudd would not be drawn on whether budgets might be committed to improving broader conditions for young people in the area, confirming that she was there only to listen and to take questions back to Westminster on behalf of constituents.
In summing up Marie reminded the group on how important it was for all sectors of society to work together in times of austerity and for us to look broadly at the resources different groups had to offer, and over a brilliant lunch many new connections begun to be forged.
I left enthusiastic about the potential for these connections, with a sense that the room held a new awareness of the value and potential of different forms of research. It feels important to find a way to sustain both of these, to continually remind schools of the broader resources at their disposal when in their busy, pressured days they may be tempted to try and solve everything alone. Networking, building new connections, working across sectors and disciplines takes time, but I think we all left feeling aware of the potential of this, and a sense that it would be worth the time it took if we are able to draw on the resources and expertise that different groups and individuals have to offer.