Written evidence submitted by Reach Academy Feltham and Reach Children’s Hub
WRITTEN SUBMISSION FROM REACH ACADEMY FELTHAM & REACH CHILDREN’S HUB
In response to the call for evidence: left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds
This evidence is especially focused on:
- Priorities for the Government in terms of tackling this issue, with reference to:
- The value of locally-tailored solutions, including youth groups and community organisations
- The school system
- Reach Academy Feltham (a highly successful Free School founded in 2012) and Reach Children’s Hub (a charitable project started in 2017) collaborate to provide an innovative form of cradle-to-career support for local children, young people and families in Feltham, aimed at tackling educational disadvantage
- 32.7% of Reach Academy’s pupil cohort are on FSM and just over one third of these pupils are white; the majority of them are white British
- In 2014 Reach Academy received an Ofsted Outstanding rating and the first three cohorts of GCSE exam results have also been outstanding.
- Working together, the Academy and Hub work to address the specific barriers to educational achievement that are most significant in the local community, collaborating with other local partner organisations as needed
- The Academy and Hub have a positive impact in the local community on three levels:
- Cradle-to-career impact – Many children and young people will benefit from the whole cradle-to-career pipeline, starting with their parents receiving antenatal support, continuing through their time in a Reach school, and then on into their young adulthood. The Hub’s work with these children and young people will be “doubly holistic”: working with them both across time and across different aspects of their lives.
- Programmatic impact – Each individual programme and activity is designed to achieve significant impact within a well-defined set of specific outcomes, regardless of whether children and families are accessing only that one activity or a wide range of activities.
- System impact – The Hub’s work supporting local systems and services will indirectly benefit a large number of children, young people and families in the local community. Through the free training provided by the Early Years Network, for instance, local Early Years professionals are enhancing their practice with local children in other settings.
- We are also part of Community Network UK, a network open to any organisation which is developing a hub or zone-like approach in their community (the attendees of this network are listed at the end of this submission). Many of the organisations are operating in predominantly white working class areas.
- We are submitting this evidence to give a detailed example of an innovative, locally-tailored solution to educational disadvantage, and to suggest that the committee may wish to explore the ways in which the government could support such initiatives UK-wide.
The Reach cradle-to-career school design: a school and community response to educational disadvantage
Context of the Reach cradle-to-career school design
- Reach Academy Feltham is an all-through school serving 900 pupils from ages 2 to 18 in West London. It is a Free School, established in 2012. Reach Academy is positioned in an area of high deprivation and its vision is to ensure that every pupil, regardless of their starting point, leads a life of choice and opportunity. The school sits in a community which ranks in the top 10% of areas with the most barriers to services and in the lowest quintile for progression to higher education. 32.7% of Reach Academy’s pupil cohort are on FSM and just over one third of these pupils are white; the majority of them are white British. In 2014 Reach Academy received an Ofsted Outstanding rating and the first three cohorts of GCSE exam results have also been outstanding. In 2017 its umbrella organisation, The Reach Foundation, established a separate charity, Reach Children’s Hub, to widen its holistic cradle-to-career support for its pupils and their families and to complement and expand the role of the school in the community.
- Before designing its interventions, Reach Children’s Hub carried out an extensive community consultation, listening to local people in order to help shape its vision for a community hub organisation that could support children, young people and families beyond what is possible for a school. The team heard from the experts: those who are living, working, and growing up in Feltham. Three Reach Academy students supported a Hub staff member with this work. They ran workshops for parents, interviewed and focus-grouped students, held meetings with Local Authority professionals and local community groups, undertook surveys, and co-developed a questionnaire which was used with local residents on the High Street, where Reach Academy is located. Alongside this local consultation, Hub staff travelled the country to learn from other organisations and schools who are undertaking broad-ranging, locally-tailored community support and community action activities, such as Manchester Communication Academy, Pembury Children’s Community, North Camden Zone, and West London Zone.
- The first few years of running the school had confirmed the need for Reach Children’s Hub and two early observations were particularly powerful motivators: the extent of the gap in abilities seen on students’ entry into nursery, and the extent to which complex difficulties outside of school formed significant barriers to learning for students of all ages. The findings from the community consultation, summarised below, offered further confirmation of the need for the Hub:
a) Essential services in Feltham are limited or poorly accessible, characterised by no antenatal provision in the area, reduced midwife and family worker support, the closure of youth clubs and no support for domestic violence victims.
b) Parent and family dynamics are complex, characterised by low parental self-esteem or self-image; a lack of peer-to-peer support; a prevalence of parental substance abuse; high parental stress caused by financial strain coupled with struggling to balance work routine and childcare while trying to seek the support that they need.
c) The community experiences a high number of risk factors, characterised by the effects of long-term deprivation such as low-paid and precarious work, food poverty, debt, poor quality housing, increasing crime and poor educational outcomes.
d) Young people lack positive trajectories to high quality further education, employment or training, characterised by a lack of understanding of how to realise aspirations and a lack of opportunity or support to do so.
The provision and support which makes up the cradle-to-career design has been designed to counteract these contextual barriers. A detailed account of this can be found on page 3.
Rationale for the Reach cradle-to-career school design
- Emerging in poor urban neighbourhoods in the USA, and now increasingly in the UK, cradle-to-career school designs engage with barriers to learning in children’s family, community, and wider socio-environmental contexts. Tailored to local areas, these designs aim to: (i) provide children with a seamless ‘pipeline’ of support, from pre-school to positive post-school destinations; (ii) improve children’s outcomes across a range of domains, including health, education, housing, and material well-being; and (iii) enhance the capacity of children’s family and community contexts to support better outcomes. There is no ‘one size fits all’ definition of a cradle-to-career school design. Each one is designed with a specific context in mind and with the understanding that all contexts have issues which are unique to that place. The school-based provision and wider holistic support within these designs act as a coordinated, multi-strand approach which spans individual policy categories or organisational boundaries and aims to tackle issues of disadvantage which act across such boundaries through mutually reinforcing interventions: it is about tackling the causes, not the symptoms.
- Inspired by models such as Harlem Children’s Zone in New York and Strive Together, which works across the United States, Reach Academy’s founders and leaders (Ed Vainker, Rebecca Cramer, and Jon McGoh) always envisioned the school as a hub for the local community, meeting as many needs of local families as possible; they could see the potential of schools as anchor institutions for a range of connected community support initiatives. Reach Academy was founded on the belief that schools can play this wider role in the community without losing their focus on providing high quality education and pursuing the best possible results. Indeed, the only way to develop the academic potential of all who come into the school is to broaden what the school provides: if it is to achieve the best possible results, the school has to support its students and its families through the complexities and difficulties of life, as much as through the curriculum, because the former can prove a formidable barrier to the latter.
- Like other locally-tailored designs, the Reach cradle-to-career model supports many vulnerable pupils and their families who remain below statutory thresholds and this extends to the ‘working poor’, defined as those who are earning but still struggling. In conjunction with the wide-ranging needs of its local population, the Reach leadership team believes that a high-quality school experience is necessary but not sufficient in ensuring children and young people’s success. High quality education is essential, but it has to be supplemented by broader support for the student as a person, and for their family, especially in the early years. Recognising that educational outcomes are inextricably linked to a range of other health, social and economic outcomes, the Reach cradle-to-career design intends to achieve the following long-term outcomes, ensuring that all children and young people:
- Are safe and well supported
- Are healthy (physically, socially and emotionally)
- Achieve well academically
- Have strong relationships and social networks
Structure of the Reach cradle-to-career design
- Two key features of the school’s structure are especially important enablers of its broad remit: it is all-through, and it is small. This allows staff to build deep, trusting relationships with students and families, which are consistent throughout the school, without the often-jarring transition from primary to secondary education (which, in too many cases, is a transition from family-oriented and community-focused primary to more distant and impersonal secondary). Alongside the school’s structure and its focus on relationships, it has always provided extensive family support and in-house counselling (through Place2Be), available to students of all ages. The Reach leadership team attributes the results that the school has achieved to this breadth of provision, as much as to the quality of teaching and learning: they draw a direct line of causation from the depth of relationships developed with students and families to the results achieved by the students.
- The diagram below outlines the long-term vision for the Reach cradle-to-career school model. Reach has been approved to open a second school, neighbouring the first, and it aims to have a campus of institutions which form its cradle-to-career provision. This will be formed of the two schools and Reach Children’s Hub, in a separate building which will neighbour the schools. The guiding principle of this model is that the schools and the Hub are mutually supportive and co-dependent: there are no better institutions around which to build wider community support than schools, but schools cannot provide the very best education for all without the wider community support convened by the Hub, to address the complexities and difficulties of students’ lives beyond the school gate. Beneath the diagram is a description of each numbered component of the model, including the projects and activities that Reach Children’s Hub has delivered so far and is currently delivering or convening.
1: Feltham 0-2
8.1 - Reach recognises the vital importance of supporting families from the earliest possible stage of their children’s lives, and the Hub has its most extensive provision at this “cradle” (and “pre-cradle”) point in the pipeline. The Hub is working closely with a range of partners to deliver this provision. Through collaboration with local midwifery and health visiting, the Hub is now offering free antenatal education for new local parents, as well as a support group for young mums in the local area. This builds on a peer support programme delivered by the National Childbirth Trust through the Hub in 2018 and 2019, which it continues to support. The Hub has also developed an innovative and wide-ranging project with Save the Children, the Feltham Early Learning Community, which includes a range of activities to support families’ home learning environments in their children’s earliest years, such as Peep and Family Links programmes, as well as supporting the system around local families, as described in (6) below.
2: Reach schools
8.2 - Many of the children supported through the Hub’s early provision will then attend one of the Reach schools, at which they will benefit from the schools’ support for wellbeing and parental engagement, and at which they also have ready access to the Hub programmes for school-aged children. Through close collaboration with the Reach schools, the Hub will be able to track the progress of the children who benefit from its 0-2 provision into their school years, both to assess the impact of that provision and to identify the need for further intervention. To support parents at the start of their child’s education, the Hub delivers a number of informal support groups for families with children in our nursery, complementing the school’s established practice of undertaking home visits before children first join.
3: Identification of need for further support for those who progress from Feltham 0-2 into other local schools
8.3 - Not all children supported at the 0-2 stage will go on to attend a Reach school. Among those who go on to other local schools, the Hub will identify the need for further support from its offer, and will closely coordinate this support with the child’s school. This may take the form of access to group programmes for school-aged children based in the Hub, support for the family or the school to access other local support services, or, where need is highest, could involve ongoing keyworker support.
4: Hub provision for school-age children and young people
8.4 - Reach Children’s Hub will run a range of activities to support school-aged children and young people. This will include both universal provision, accessible for any eligible student, and targeted provision, aimed at those who require additional support. The Girls’ Group is an example of the latter, providing group support and personal development for Secondary-age female students identified as vulnerable or at-risk. Once the dedicated Hub facility is built, Hub staff hope it can house a range of charities, organisations and services which can provide wide-ranging support for local school-aged young people.
5: Feltham Futures
8.5 - The Hub’s Feltham Futures project provides wide-ranging guidance, advice and support to maximise the quality of local students’ post-school outcomes, and to support them through their post-school destinations. This includes both group and 1:1 support, aimed at helping students to identify the best pathway for them, to put together successful applications, and to flourish in the first few years after school. So far, as well as direct support for students, the project has involved large-scale community careers fairs, partnerships with local businesses and with charities such as Spark and Career Ready, and a pre-university preparation weekend, which gave local students information and guidance on everything that university entails, just a couple of weeks before they started there.
6: Referrals and “walk-ins” into the Hub; outreach from the Hub; the Hub’s role supporting the local system
8.6 - As a hub of resource and provision for the local community, Reach Children’s Hub provides support for children, young people and families who are not involved in Reach schools, through a number of means. Firstly, other schools or agencies are able to refer individuals or families for support through the Hub. New members from other schools can be referred into the Girls’ Group, for instance. Self-referrals have also provided access to Hub provision, such as local people signing up for the Adult Education courses, provided through the Hub in 2017-2019. Once the dedicated Hub facility is built, it will also be able to support people via “walk-ins”: reception and community café staff will be able to triage people into the most appropriate programmes or services for them.
8.7 - The Hub has also begun engaging in a range of outreach activities, such as Hub staff delivering programmes and 1:1 support in other schools as part of the Feltham Futures project. Through close collaboration with other local schools, it has begun to identify areas of university access and careers support where its Feltham Futures staff can make a difference to their students. Lastly, the Hub has begun to play a role supporting local systems and services for children, young people and families. It hosts an Early Help Panel, through which local professionals meet to coordinate support for local families below social care thresholds. As part of the Early Learning Community project, it convenes an Early Years Network, which provides free training, support and networking for local professionals working in nurseries and primary schools.
7: Three levels of impact
8.8 - Throughout the cradle-to-career model, the schools and Reach Children’s Hub can together achieve three levels of impact, with differing amounts of directness and depth:
• Cradle-to-career impact – it will have the greatest and deepest impact on those children and young people who benefit from the whole cradle-to-career pipeline, starting with their parents receiving antenatal support, continuing through their time in a Reach school, and then on into their young adulthood. The Hub’s work with these children and young people will be “doubly holistic”: working with them both across time and across different aspects of their lives.
• Programmatic impact – each individual programme and activity is designed to achieve significant impact within a well-defined set of specific outcomes, regardless of whether children and families are accessing only that one activity or a wide range of activities.
• System impact – the Hub’s work supporting local systems and services will indirectly benefit a large number of children, young people and families in the local community. Through the free training provided by the Early Years Network, for instance, local Early Years professionals are enhancing their practice with local children in other settings.
Community Network UK
- Reach Children’s Hub is a member of the Community Network UK, a network open to any organisation which is developing a hub or zone-like approach in their community, to share insights and learn from each other. Individuals and organisations with an interest in this work from a research perspective also form part of the network. Before Covid-19, the network met in person three times a year at different sites across the UK. These meetings often involve talks from external speakers whose work aligns with that of the network. During the coronavirus crisis the network is meeting online once every two weeks due to the fast-changing nature of the current situation. These sessions are proving extremely useful to problem-solve, learn about effective ways of supporting the local community and reflect as a group on the challenges and opportunities presented. Regular attendees at the Community Network UK meetings include:
- The North Manchester Family Zone (backbone organisation is Manchester Communication Academy)
- Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland
- Wallsend Children’s Community
- Pembury Children’s Community
- Smallshaw-hurst Children’s Community
- North Camden Zone
- West London Zone
- Greater Shankhill Partnership, Belfast
- Kirklees Schools-as-Hubs initiative
- Researchers from the University of Manchester (Social Science)
- Researchers from the University of Newcastle (Social Science)
- For the Education Select Committee to suggest that the DfE could undertake valuable research into the effectiveness of these Children’s Zone/Hub initiatives across the country
- For the Education Select Committee to suggest that the government explore the most effective forms of support it could offer to these initiatives