A rather nice digital reflection on the CUExpo conference, which took place in Newfoundland, Canada, in June this year.
I was delighted to be invited to attend as a community partner, and to have the chance to talk about the emerging UK Community Partner Network, in the context of international work around university and community research partnerships.
This is an exciting area of work with more and more people seeing the benefits of collaborative research projects.
Watch here: http://research.library.mun.ca/1939/
Modern technology offers us so many more options, and so I’ve decided to make the most of what’s on offer by recording a prequel to the story I’m going to tell at North End Playscheme this year. This is something I’ve never done before, and I hope it will help children and adults get excited about the week to come!
The theme at this year’s playscheme is Narnia, so I have devised an entirely original piece, based on the world that CS Lewis created, but set in-between the end of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and before Prince Caspian. This allows me a huge amount of creative scope, whilst still anchoring the story in a recognisable world.
So here it is: Soran’s Flight. I hope you enjoy it!
Education is a gift. It is a privilege, both to the teacher and the student. Education has the power to change individuals lives and by extension whole families…swathes of communities…an entire nation.
But such power wielded wrongly can be a dangerous thing. It can damage and restrict people, limit them and their potential and instill a fear of failure and a sense of ‘not being good enough’.
I was abruptly reminded of this fact this evening, when putting my daughter to bed. She turned six just a month ago and will be moving into Year 2 in the autumn. Tonight she said she wanted to talk to me about ‘her worries’ and the things she was concerned about.
“I’m worried about going into Year 2,” she explained. “I’m worried because I’m going to have tests and I’ve never done a number test in my life and what happens if I get it wrong and I get bad marks?”
She is six.
Now, I should make it clear that I’ve never spoken to her about SATs, and the only notion she has about testing might be from her older brother, who will be going into Year 4 in the autumn and has already had his SATs and a series of QCA tests. And yet, she is keenly aware of – and worried about, the tests that she knows are coming in Year 2, and more importantly, she is worried about failing.
I’m not worried about how she’ll do in these tests, not least because she’s in an excellent school and she’s in the top Maths group. But the point is she’s SIX. She shouldn’t have to worry about tests or what might happen is she fails. She shouldn’t be concerned about not doing well enough or ‘getting bad marks’. She should be in an environment where learning is a joy, and failure is a accepted and more importantly valued part of that process.
Paul Benneworth, at the GUNI (Global University Network for Innovation) conference in Barcelona earlier this year, reminded us of an old but timely saying: ‘you don’t fatten the lamb by continually weighing it’. I’ve been working in the field of youth and children’s work for over twenty years, and I don’t object to assessment. I understand the need to evaluate and assess the effectiveness of learning. But it seems to me the pendulum has swung far too far in the wrong direction, and those holding that wonderful and terrible power over education find themselves falling foul of McNamara’s fallacy: we only value what we can easily measure, rather than finding ways to measure what we truly value.
My daughter has developed an anxiety about tests and a fear of failure from an education culture that says: ‘you’re only valuable if you achieve the right scores and pass all the tests’ and as a practitioner and as a parent, this is heartbreaking. Surely we want our learners of all ages to know that they have value beyond the score sheets? Surely we want to encourage them, and invest in them, and enable them to have the self-confidence and resilience to take the risks in order that they might achieve and fulfill all their untapped potential?
Education is a balancing act, and it has always been. It is a balance between the need to develop innovative ways of conveying information, and finding appropriate ways to understand how effective this conveyance has been. But people are more than the sum of their test results and metrics and assessments only shed light on a small part of the whole person.
Surely someone, somewhere, must be able to raise a shout that challenges this awful, seemingly inexorable slide towards a factory model of education, where only the ‘good ones’ are kept and the rest are thrown on the rubbish heap? Otherwise I fear this warped notion of ‘value’ will leech further and wider across society, and we’ll end up with a generation too fearful and constrained to take the risks we need to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
Well, not exactly carried away…but a group of us will be taking some time out on Monday 1st July, to take part at the Chaplaincy Away Day, hosted by Hopeweavers (you can see some photos of the venue below)
I’m really looking forward to this day and hopeful for some thoughtful and constructive discussion and debate about how the chaplaincy service could shape up. Find out more here:
You’ve probably noticed, that I have a bit of a thing for heritage and history. Whenever I’m in a place, I just notice things about it – architectural features, signs, alterations and it starts my brain whirring…I wonder about the people who lived there, or the chain of events which may have sparked change…and I wonder about what was there before…
For me it’s all about the story.
And so it is that I appear to have sparked off another history-hunt, this time in Stamshaw, which is in the north-west section of Portsea island. The local Infant school building was built in 1899 and will be 115 years old next year, so I proposed a local heritage project, using this event s a catalyst to explore the local history of the area. The school were really supportive an I’ve been working with the Headteacher and key staff to develop a new community project which launches on 19th June.
We’ve already been provided with some amazing archive maps and found some great photos in the City Archives, but what
we really need are photos and stories from local people to make it come alive.
To this end we’ve sent out press releases to local news groups and through social media, to promote the work and invite local people to take part to, by sharing their stories and memories.
The project will run over the course of a year, with three focused ‘Detective Days’, the first of which takes place in two weeks time. The children will begin by exploring clues to the past which can be found in their own school building. In the autumn term they’ll be going out and about in the local area, to find evidence of the past from present day buildings and sites and in the Spring term 2014 the school hopes to invite in local people, former pupils and staff from the school who can share with the children their own memories of Stamshaw. The project will culminate in a birthday party celebration, where the children can share the journey of learning that they’ve been on over the previous year.
The school has already been awarded a small grant towards the project from the Nelson Community Panel, and this will help pay for materials and resources which will be used during the project.
If you know anything about Stamshaw’s history (either the school or the area) that you think might be useful to the project, please can you drop me a line in the first instance: firstname.lastname@example.org
The school will be setting up a dedicated webpage and email address shortly, and they also hope to have a ‘postbox’ in the school office, where local people could drop things in.
I’m pleased to say that the FE Chaplaincy project is now building momentum, and later this morning I’ll be doing my first ‘pastoral’ visit there.
To find out more about that, and the project in general, why not toddle over to: http://fechaplaincy.wordpress.com/2013/06/05/and-breathe/
I’ve just come back from three days in Barcelona, attending the GUNI 2013 Conference http://www.guninetwork.org/guni.conference/2013-guni-conference/he-conference-2013 on university-community engagement. I went as part of a small team from NCCPE, to promote the newly emerging UK Community Partner Network, which you can read more about here: http://www.publicengagement.ac.uk/about/community-partner-network
I met a really diverse group of people from universities across the globe, whose uniting passion is about enabling the knowledge, skills, research and resources held within universities to be more easily accessible to communities, in order that they themselves can make the changes they feel they want to make, whether it be about social justice, health, women’s issues, heritage or infrastructure.
Some of the projects I learnt about were incredibly challenging and quite beyond my own cultural frame of reference. Other were encouraging and inspiring, as new ways are being found to learn and share across continents and with new technologies.
But perhaps unsurprisingly some of the most effective forms of engagement come through personal relationship: that one-to-one encounter with another human being, who values you and wants to come alongside you so that together you can make a difference to the people around you.
And THAT is where I fit in.
Although much of the language and context of Higher Education is new to me and I’m still finding my way through the jungle of jargon, essentially I see that it’s about valuing people and using our skills to benefit one another. It’s about recognising that each of us has gifts and skills that can be used to a greater purpose, whether or not we have a degree or speak several languages. The ability of each human being to acknowledge the dignity and value of another shouldn’t ever be undervalued.
Policy can affect practice and funding can support practice, but without people there *is* no practice!
I have the privilege of attending the CUExpo in Canada next month, where any of the delegates from Barcelona will also be in attendance. I’m looking forward to continuing this conversation, and finding out more!
Well, things have certainly been busy here at the Potting Shed over the last few weeks! A burst of feverish funding bids and applications have yielded some encouraging results…Here are some of the highlights:
Somerstown Stories project has been signed off by the Heritage Lottery Fund. This marks the end of the grant funding from HLF…but not the end of the project. On-going interest from the local community has sparked three follow-on workshops at Priory School, Portsmouth Foyer and Somerstown Adventure Playground. Each event has been tailored to meet the needs of the individual venue and are noticeably different in feel and approach. For the Adventure Playground, for example, we’re considering how a derelict piece of nearby land could possibly be transformed into a wildlife garden, and to help the children and their families understand what this could look like we’re borrowing from Helen Oxenbury’s ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ story, whilst we explore the nature reserve at Admiral Lord Nelson School in the north of the city. This piece of work is looking at Somerstown in the present, rather than the past, but during this period of regeneration it’s important to help local people make the connections that will help them participate more fully in the process of change in their area.
Somerstown Stories has also enabled me to develop stronger links with the University of Portsmouth, and I am now working alongside staff within the Creative & Cultural Industries faculty, supporting the development of their community engagement strategy. They want to specifically focus on an area which includes Somerstown and the city centre, where a lot of the University’s work is based, and I’m pleased to be able to be involved in this exciting piece of work!
It also dovetails very nicely with some work I’m doing with the National Centre for Co-ordinating Public Engagement, who are supporting the establishment of the UK Community Partner Network (or UKCPN) which is being set up to support organisations and practitioners such as myself who are working with universities on research and community based projects. The UKCPN is being funded by the Connected Communities programme which is in itself a new strand of funding with input from five of the major research councils in the UK. As part of my work with them, I will be attending the GUNI (Global University Network for Innovation) Conference in Barcelona in May 2013 to speak informally with delegates about the UKCPN and what we hope to do.
However, history is never too far away, and two more community heritage projects have emerged at Stamshaw Infants School and All Saints church. All Saints is a classic Victorian church which was built in 1828. They want to re-order part of the interior of their building and I’m supporting them with the fundraising element. One of the funders they’ve applied to is HLF and part of the bid includes some ‘taster Victorian Day’ workshops which are being tentatively planned with local primary schools, in order to draw out some of the valuable heritage of the site. I also plan to link these workshops to the nearby Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum, which is less than 5 minutes walk away.
Stamshaw Infants School building will be 115 years old next year and I approached them with an idea about doing a local history project, exploring the history of the area and inviting collaboration from local residents and former staff and pupils. The school are really enthused about the project and again I’ve supported them in putting together a funding bid, to enable this project to go ahead. In many ways it’s like a slimmed down version of Somerstown Stories, with one notable difference in that it’s the area in Portsmouth where I live. If the funding bid is successful the project will include 3 ‘Detective Days’ where the whole school will be engaged in activities linked to the local history of the area and the entire project will culminate in a summer Birthday Party, inviting parents and residents to see the results of the children’s year of enquiry.
And last, but by no means least, I also doing some work for Portsmouth Anglican Deanery, researching and developing a model of Chaplaincy for Further Education providers in Portsmouth. There are two colleges and 3 private schools currently offering sixth form provision within the Deanery and the FE Chaplaincy project sets out to consider the needs of these different organisations and suggest ways in the which the resources of the Deanery (both lay and ordained) could meet those needs. This research also includes an element of face-to-face work at Portsmouth College, which I’m looking forward to!
So, plenty of seedlings to nurture over the coming months! Don’t forget to visit the Facebook page ‘The Potting Shed’ for more regular updates and insights or to connect via Twitter: @sharonaverona
Somerstown Stories has a will of its own.
The Heritage Lottery Fund grant has been completed, and so technically the project should be finished…except it isn’t.
I was delighted to be invited to speak about Somerstown Stories at the U3A (University of the 3rd Age) Local History group this afternoon. Around 40 were packed in to the Albert Stanley room in Southsea Community Centre, and I was pleased to learn that this was the largest turnout they’d had for a while!
I spoke for about an 45 minutes on the history of the area, and people spoke to me afterwards saying how much they’d enjoyed it. I also met Sonja, who started her teaching career at Stamshaw Infants – this will be very useful, as I’m hoping to run a similar but scaled down version of the project at Stamshaw Infants as part of their 115th birthday celebrations!
The other exciting thing that happened today was that the limited edition copies of the Somerstown Stories book are now ready for release! 30 hardback copies were paid for by the grant, and will given for free to people who requested a copy. Most of these copies have been allocated, with one or two still to find a home. After that, a paperback version will be available via the Somerstown Stories website. It will be sold at cost-price, as the HLF prohibits us from making any profit from their investment. I am very pleased to finally see the book ‘in the flesh’, as its taken around 1oo hours of my time, on a voluntary basis, to get the book finished. I felt strongly that Somerstown as a community should have the best quality book I could manage, but it was a very lengthy and involved process and its quite a relief to see it finished!