This is the last blog before I finish my sabbatical and return to school as the substantive headteacher at All Saints. My experience tells me that there will be twists and turns ahead, that the eyes and the mind will be thrown off course from time to time. But I am determined that I will promote collaboration ahead of competition, an exciting set of learning opportunities ahead of reductive compliance, and put inclusion and compassion ahead of managerial expediency.
Above all, to remain positive about what the pupils and community can do, and not what they can’t.
Following on from the Sierra Leone visit this month, much of this aspiration can be expressed through the objectives of the developing project between our schools.
Here is a summary of the salient points.
Freetown/Liverpool Project 2019.
In the summer of 2019, a group of between 10 and 20 pupils (a mixture of sighted and visually impaired pupils) from Freetown, Sierra Leone, accompanied by teachers and chaperones, will come to Liverpool for one month. The final numbers will depend on the level of funding received. During their time in Liverpool, they will work alongside the pupils at All Saints, Anfield, and St Vincent’s School for the Blind, West Derby on five projects.
- A JOINT CHOIR.
One of the key educational outcomes of the month will be the forming of a choir made up of students and staff from the mainstream schools of FANO Primary School, Waterloo. Sierra Leone and All Saints Catholic Primary School, Anfield, Liverpool; and the two schools for students with visual impairment, St Vincent’s School for the Blind, Liverpool, and The Milton Margai School for the Blind, Freetown. There may be other schools and groups that join the choir as the project develops.
This Liverpool/Freetown choir will rehearse and perform on several occasions and in different locations, seeking to provide a chance for all to understand the power and joy of music-making. Music places each learner on an equal footing, irrespective of disability, nationality, colour, religion or race. The choir has the unique ability to give the project a much larger exposure and carry its message to as many people as possible.
The choir will also remind Liverpudlians of their remarkable history as an Atlantic port, and whilst the involvement of Sierra Leone in that history is not a memory to be cherished due to its importance in the slave trade, it is also not a memory to be forgotten. The choice of music will reflect this history.
The two scratch African choirs are already rehearsing together (at some cost – transport between schools is not easy) and the British choirs will begin soon. Intense rehearsals will take place in weeks 1 and 2 of the scheduled visit, with concerts scheduled for weeks 3 and 4.
This is the least sustainable of the five (half the choir will have to return to Africa) but a recording of the music will at least provide a learning resource for schools in both countries.
2. THE SIGHT BOX
The ‘Sight Box’ project (@SightBoxUK) is a key vehicle for this project. At the heart of the ‘learning village’ at St Vincent’s is the development of the Sight Box. Students at the school work alongside design engineers and technicians to develop materials that can assist blind children in less-developed parts of the world. For example, a ‘boccia’ game has been devised which allows blind students to play alongside their sighted friends. Or a running line has been designed which allows blind pupils to run around a track without the need of a guide.
The next step for the Sight Box story is to identify places across the world where mass production can lead to measurable differences to those communities where access to materials is in short supply.
It is estimated that over 6 million children in the world are now blind, 90% in developing countries, of whom less than 10% have access to education. Receipt of a basic education for these children is something of a lottery. The Sight Box is part of a vision that the students at St Vincent’s have been trying to realise – the aim being to use their knowledge to train and support those less fortunate than they are.
All these developments are part of the values-based curriculum at the school, and include the support of mainstream friends.
The Sight Box, in its prototype form, has already been sent to countries such as Nepal, Pakistan, and, particularly relevant for this project, Sierra Leone. An October 2017 article in the New York Times has highlighted the sharp increase in visual impairment present in Ebola survivors.
Whilst in the UK, pupils and staff from the schools in Africa will work alongside pupils and staff from St Vincent’s on existing and developing Sight Boxes, which can then be mass-produced for the next generation. In parallel, staff will train the African staff and pupils on how to use the current resources within the Sight Box.
This will provide sustainability for both the ‘service learning’ curriculum, and for the development of materials to assist the education of children with a visual impairment in the developing world.
3. THE ‘CLASSROOM IN A BAG’
Whilst the visually impaired students will take home a Sight Box full of equipment to be used at the Milton Margai School for the Blind, the mainstream students and staff from FANO Primary School will also take home a bag of materials to use in school.
The biggest problem facing developing countries like Sierra Leone is a high rate of adult illiteracy – 48% in 2015, and rising. Each African pupil and member of staff will be given a bag of materials designed to accelerate reading skills. They will spend time learning how to use the materials, and which teaching strategies are the most effective. African pupils will be trained to become ‘little teachers’, who can then support the teaching of literacy in their own communities.
Keeping the ‘service learning’ approach uppermost in mind, Y5 and Y6 pupils in the mainstream school of All Saints (and others that come on board) will design and prepare these materials alongside their teachers in the months leading up to the project, and have them printed commercially.
All Saints has already funded the building of an extra classroom at FANO Primary School. This is to operate as a ‘model classroom’ for when the teachers from Sierra Leone return. Working alongside the Local Commission for Education in the Western Area, this classroom will act as a training centre from which the visiting teachers can train groups of local teachers in the strategies of phonics and early reading. Training has already taken place (see earlier blog in February 2018).
In this way, the work done during the project can be made sustainable and reach hundreds of teachers and thousands of students in the developing world.
The Waterloo Partnership schools located in the Merseyside area will monitor the work on an annual basis (http://www.waterloopartnership.co.uk/building/ ). In this way, they will ensure sustainability and be able to measure impact effectively.
4.THE WORLD’S LARGEST LESSON
The ‘World’s Largest Lesson’ is an organisation designed to introduce children and young people to many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (http://worldslargestlesson.globalgoals.org/).
For this project, we will work with pupils particularly on No.17 ‘Revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development’
‘A successful sustainable development agenda requires partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society. These inclusive partnerships built upon principles and values, a shared vision, and shared goals that place people and the planet at the centre, are needed at the global, regional, national and local level.’
This is taken directly from the UN’s own definition of UN17. The project would go some way to assisting any supporting organisations’ wider contributions to achieving successful outcomes against this criteria.
Sierra Leone itself is at serious risk of environmental disaster, chiefly from flooding and disease. Staff and pupils from participating schools will design a series of lessons and activities on this topic, prior to the month’s activities. These lessons will be then delivered to a wide range of pupils over the course of the month. We intend to work with other local community organisations which can be co-opted to spread the messages from the project to countries far and wide, through innovative media solutions and through partners such as @TheWorldsLesson
5. A GLOBAL CONFERENCE
During the month-long project, a Global Leadership Conference will take place in Liverpool involving leaders from the UK (public and private sectors), Europe, and a range of other countries where St Vincent’s and All Saints already have partnerships e.g. Sierra Leone, China, Pakistan.
Working alongside the International Primary Headteachers Forum (http://www.iphf.org.uk/ ), a range of partners and organisations will be invited to attend and/or contribute, all of whom assist with the promotion of global partnerships e.g universities, training providers charities, government organisations, community groups. A range of stalls/providers will be present to assist current and prospective leaders in education develop a vision for their own schools.
Prior to this, a multi-age pupil conference will take place, involving children from the UK and Africa. Issues around sustainability, child safety and the future of technology will be on the agenda.
All Saints and St Vincent’s have already worked with Hope University to give student teachers the chance to develop their own materials to support the Prevent Duty in schools; this conference would carry this work through to all levels of ethical leadership.
Sustainability will be provided by establishing a bi-annual conference, to be held in different countries. This ‘global alliance’ of schools will continue to develop shared curricula based on common values and vision.
These then are the main themes that will permeate the project. A Community Interest Company (CIC) is about to be launched under the name TeachAbility UK.
This blog will track the progress of the project and the work of the CIC as it progresses through the next eighteen months.