Elizabeth Holmes explores ideas for putting community cohesion at the heart of all the professional learning that your school undertakespdf-1288697

CPD Week Info Sheet – Spotlight on Community Cohesion.pdf

The first duty of a human being is to assume the right functional relationship to society – more briefly, to find your real job, and to do it.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Community cohesion is big news. It’s talked about endlessly in corridors of power, actively pursued in local authorities and actually happening in schools across the country. Ofsted is particularly interested in the ways in which we interpret and promote it, too. Such is its importance that it really has to have a high priority in our plans for professional learning. 

Community Cohesion – step by step
The need for schools to actively contribute towards community cohesion is not an optional extra. It is a requirement enshrined in the Education and Inspections Act 2006, and schools have had a duty to promote it since September 2007, with Ofsted inspecting the performance of schools against this duty as a part of normal school inspections since September 2008. It is extremely helpful, therefore, to give the theme of community cohesion a place in all professional learning undertaken at your school, to help to convey its central role in the work of your school. These ideas will help:

  • Creating a shared definition of exactly what the term ‘community cohesion’ means will help all in your school to work collectively to promote it. With a shared understanding, your approach is unlikely to be ad hoc. Ofsted uses the DCSF description of community cohesion (as outlined by Alan Johnson in November 2006): ‘By community cohesion, we mean working towards a society in which there is a common vision and sense of belonging by all communities; a society in which the diversity of people’s backgrounds and circumstances is appreciated and valued; a society in which similar life opportunities are available to all; and a society in which strong and positive relationships exist and continue to be developed in the workplace, in schools and in the wider community.’
  • Many schools are giving a named member of staff responsibility for overseeing commitment to community cohesion. This seems to work well right across the phases, both primary and secondary, and gives all staff a port of call when seeking to boost their work towards community cohesion.
  • Relationships are absolutely at the heart of community cohesion, just as they are at the heart of teaching and learning. It’s perfectly natural for a school that honours the importance of creating great relationships to be particularly effective at promoting community cohesion. Don’t get hung up on questions of ethnicity, race or religion. Community cohesion is about people getting on through the creation of healthy, respectful relationships.
  • Consider doing an audit of attitudes and actions towards community cohesion in your school. This will help to identify where gaps are and where training may need to be focused.
  • Ofsted has a direct interest in the way in which your school approaches its duties towards community cohesion. Make it easy for inspectors by highlighting the community cohesion dimensions of all training undertaken in your school. Just a quick sentence in your records, which makes explicit what’s implicit, will do.
  • Cohesion is not about the elimination of difference. The Institute of Community Cohesion says that it is about developing a diverse society that has a sense of ‘social solidarity and mutual responsibility’. This is a great starting point for cohesion within a school.
  • Explore the extent to which learning outside the classroom, or learning from those other than teachers, is a feature of school life for your pupils. Could you say that collaboration with others is something that staff feel confident about?

If, as a school, you would like to take your commitment to community cohesion further still, it is useful to unpick the characteristics of a school deemed ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. Key features include having planned actions to promote community cohesion underpinned by an analysis of your school’s context, and having evidence to show that your actions as a school are having an impact. Where community cohesion is deemed important, learners will have shared values and be able and willing to integrate widely with others. Differences are respected and learners are directly involved in the elimination of prejudice and discrimination. All of that is a goal worth reaching for!

Find out more…

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2009

About the author: Elizabeth Holmes qualified as a teacher at the Institute of Education, London and is the author of several books specialising in the areas of professional development and teacher well-being.