ICECS Statement on Community SchoolsThis is a featured page

This page contains a statement and invitation on community schools issued by the International Centre of Excellence for Community Schools as part of an ongoing international discussion group on community schools.


Welcome to the pages we are sharing about Community Schools. In this article we explain what the International Centre of Excellence for Community Schools (ICECS) does and what information we have gathered about Community Schools around the world. We start by discussing what we mean by Community Schools and describing the various names that are used for similar ideas. We also share our understanding of government policies and also of current research findings. ICECS is a member of the International Quality Partnership which is a team of people leading NGOs that support the development of Community Schools in their countries. Together we have written the International Quality Standards for Community Schools and we have posted short briefing sheets which outline our thinking for each Standard. In due course we will be posting up case studies. Everyone is welcomed to post up their examples of best practice.

You will find a bibliography for this article.We will be contributing to the Glossary of terms because this will help us to understand each other better. We also run webinars which are available as recordings in the shared schedule/archive section after the event. Sign up even if you can’t attend the live event and you will then be able to access the recording.We hope that readers will join in the debates and send us their ideas and contributions.

2.What we do at ICECS

In order to promote and help develop Community Schools ICECS works with NGOs, individual Community Schools, governments and academic researchers. We undertake the following activities:
•Networking to share learning;
•Setting up short term partnerships to carry out specific projects;
•Disseminating practical materials such as the International Quality Standards for Community Schools, case studies, facilitating school-school visits, research findings;
•Training programmes for practitioners and providing expertise and advice to help change practice so that schools work in partnership with parents, other agencies and the community; so that they offer a relevant, culturally sensitive curriculum delivered using a variety of effective approaches and so that schools plan their improvement year on year working as a staff team in a collegiate fashion. .Our current work includes:
•Membership of International Quality Partnership
•Convening the International Network for Community Schools – information can also be found by direct
•Desk research
•Designing projects e.g. with Uganda, Malawi, Ghana, Benin, Bosnia, Turkey, Russia, Bosnia, Czech Republic, UK, Netherlands, Sweden
•A webinar programme on various aspects related to Community Schools.The following sections sets out the information which ICECS has gathered and developing collaboratively with partners.

3.Naming schools

“Community School” is probably the most common term. In Wales, they are called community-focused schools. In Ukraine they are called community active schools; in England Extended Schools or full service Extended Schools as they are in the USA. In some countries they are not called Community Schools because this is how all schools operate anyway. We can find such examples of these in Sweden, the new rural schools in Poland where they are managed by parents under the auspices of NGOs and in developing countries where there is little or no state system and parents run the schools themselves or they are run by NGOs on their behalf.Despite these differences in names, they share common and will, most likely be working towards:
•Strengthening the connection between schools and their surrounding communities
• Promoting quality education
• Enabling teachers to work collaboratively with students, parents and communities to make decisions about the way education works and about what is taught in schools
• Encouraging active participation of students in their communities
• Fostering the continuation of local customs, traditions and practices through school curriculum
• Counteracting discrimination against marginalized groups and promoting their inclusion in educational processes
• Working with teachers to promote a culture of teaching for change in the school and in the classroom through the incorporation of democratic systems and interactive pedagogy
• Giving voice to teachers so they can participate meaningfully in education reform

4.History and purpose of Community Schools

Working in partnership with NGOs around the world ICECS has identified three progenitors of Community Schools:
In countries where there is no, or relatively poor state provision of education Community Schools are often established by parents or by non-government organisations (NGOs) acting on their behalf. In order to establish these schools parents will have some level of engagement and will see the value of education for their children. This is often very important for the parents of girls where, in some cultures, an education is considered to be less important for them. It is often the case that the schools build connections with the community and ensure that the curriculum has some relevance so that parents will prioritise education. They are described in details Community Schools in Africa. Reaching the Unreached, by Glassman et al describes schools set up in this way.There are two major pieces of work describing the development of Community Schools in Africa “A Literature Review of Community Schools” and “Evolving partnerships: the role of NGOs in basic education in Africa”. These are distilled into an articlehere.

In summary, this research shows that in much of Anglophone Africa and in many French territories during the colonial period, Community Schools were started and run by communities and churches. Communities had significant responsibilities in creating, constructing, financing, and managing the Community School and in recruiting and paying teachers, and procuring school materials. Community Schools differed from government schools in their funding sources, governance, management structure, organization, and, often, curricula. With the coming of political independence, these schools were often taken over by government and became the basis of the public school system. Community schools, therefore, have a long history in many parts of Africa. Few would call themselves Community Schools although in many cases this is how they operate. They face many challenges. Training teachers and then keeping them up to speed with the latest thinking in education is difficult. Providing basic facilities such as buildings and equipment is also difficult. In many countries the government has begun to take over the provision of education but where this happens there is often tension between the NGOs and the government and teachers’ unions. This is because the government (and therefore the Unions) often does not recognise the training which the teachers have received from the NGO and also because the schools often lose touch with their community roots and partnerships and are often are configured in a traditional manner. There are sometimes very tangible impacts such as on the recruitment of girls and this is a key challenge across many countries in the continent. So for example, overall countries statistics for girls accessing educational provision might appear very good in a country but this often obscures the differences within the country between urban middle class girls and poor rural girls from an ethnic minority group where still, despite great strides, many girls may only receive 3 months primary schooling.

As countries emerged from communist rule in the Soviet Union so Community Schools were seen as an important vehicle for instilling democratic processes and, often the only public community asset, schools were a vital tool in strengthening the local community. This is the sub title of a successful 2012 application for funding in Russia:
The mission of the program is to assist countries with the development of Community Education & Development Projects and democratization of schools, expanding the role by involving community members both as decision makers and as learners.

Community Schools in these countries (Eastern Europe and Central Asia) develop relationships with the community, engage with the parents, build partnerships with other agencies, and improve the quality of the learning experience in the classroom. Their focus is often to strengthen the community and build an understanding of democracy. Consequently, they often have a rich programme of learning and development for community groups and for parents. Their pupils are often engaged in volunteering programme, learning about and practicing active citizenship.In high income countries of the West and in the UK and the USA in particular, the focus has been on attainment. Community Schools are not a new idea but interest has grown rapidly. In these countries a stubborn percentage of pupils leaving school with few or no formal qualifications (at times this has been as much as 20%) has been a potent spur to political action. In both these countries we have seen Extended Schools and/or Full service Extended Schools become a national policy with NGOs such as ContinYou in the UK and the Coalition for Community Schools in the USA supporting schools, local authorities and other NGOs. In many cases Community Schools serve communities in both urban and rural areas which are not especially deprived but nevertheless enrichment opportunities are offered such as after school clubs or other ways in which pupils can learn in addition to their normal classroom lessons.

Such is the complexity of the barrier to learning for many pupils, especially those who are disadvantaged, that schools alone cannot hope to improve outcomes for many young people. If they are to make a real difference then they must provide a range of supportive services by working with other agencies, work in partnership with families and the wider community and improve the quality of the learning experience for young people providing a robust and relevant curriculum. We have learnt from the UK experience and from theHarlem Children’s Zonein New York that Community Schools are likely to work best when they operate within an integrated policy framework in which public, voluntary and private sectors in a deprived neighbourhood all work for similar goals.

Of course, there is not a simple divide between East and West or North and South because arguably all countries are subject to unprecedented changes – restructured economies, changed political systems, global economy, technological advances, environmental changes, international and civil conflict, higher life expectancy and sometimes lower birth rates. Consequently there are seismic and rapid change with higher levels of migration, new opportunities for enterprise, high levels of unemployment, new demands on families and consequently new demands on schools and the children they teach. It is not surprising then, that educators have recognised that in this turmoil it is not possible for schools to operate alone and with little reference to the outside world and the future for which they are preparing their pupils. The potency of social networking alone, challenges the traditional view of teachers as the fount of all knowledge. Pupils are getting information and values from way beyond the physical limits in which they live.Here is a sample of issues which have come to our attention during the last year, from schools in many different countries:·

  • In a primary school in the UK children played a traditional chasing game with a modern twist. It is called “Terrorist Tag” and children touched by the chaser are “blown up”.·
  • In a secondary school in the UK a new intake of children from Poland has resulted in new ethnic tensions. The Polish children have arrived at the school with racist views against Black and Muslim children and there are frequently outbreaks in the playground at breaks.
  • In a school in Russia teachers have discovered that some of their children have witnessed their mother being beaten by their father. Observers note that this is on the increase.
  • In many schools in Africa children come to school hungry and many have not incorporated basic hygiene rules into their daily lives – hand-washing, using mosquito nets at home for example. As a consequence children are often prevented from learning by poor health.·
  • In Czech Republic schools, drug use by pupils is on the increase, not only in cities but even in rural communities, affecting pupils’ ability to learn and putting them at risk of a criminal record which will hinder their employment prospects when they leave school.
  • Suicide amongst young people in Kazakhstan is critically high. A range of reasons are suggested including severe pressure to achieve high grades at school and neglect by parents at home.
  • In many countries youth unemployment is on the increase and whilst life skills have been adopted, this is not always directed at the development of enterprise.
  • In Moldova, so many adults have left the country for work that there are many families headed by teenagers or by grandparents. Consequently, many children come to school ill prepared and often with very poorly developed social, language and motor skills so that they are not able to learn.
  • In Pakistan, there is no national system for removal of domestic waste. Everyone depend son children from poor families scavenging and recycling the waste. NGOs setting up schools for poor children must take into account the need of their pupils to contribute to the family income through such work.

This sample highlights the complex social and economic barriers to learning faced by many pupils. Although many of these issues are now acknowledged in many countries, they have been tackled with varying degrees of success in the developed countries.In England, where some of these have prevailed for some time, Community Schools – or Village Colleges as they were then called were set up as early as the 1930s as an efficient way of using school premises and bringing new learning opportunities to an impoverished rural area. Henry Morris, the chief education officer for Cambridgeshire – a largely rural county in England, saw that apart from churches, schools were often the only public community asset and yet they were closed after 4pm each day, closed every weekend and closed for about 13 weeks of the year. Sensibly, he realised that this was inefficient use of valuable resources and opened them up to a population of adults in desperate need of new educational opportunities. Even today in England we will find schools that see the sense in ensuring that the premises are used out of school hours and are often able to boost their budgets by renting out the facilities. Indeed, during the 90’s the more enterprising school principals, opened conference suites, partnered businesses and offered enterprise hubs –a supportive environment for new small businesses and rented out their assembly halls and kitchens for weddings and other social activity.

The last three decades has seen widespread agreement in the UK, USA and Canada, amongst others, that schools have to remove the social and economic barriers to learning. Here distressed neighbourhoods mean that pupils are surrounded by difficulties for example, perhaps a high crime rate community tensions. Many will have direct, multiple disadvantages, for example, poverty, poor housing and poor health and perhaps racial harassment. Formal learning for such children is often difficult and the schools acknowledge that they need to work alongside other professionals and community leaders to ensure that their pupils can access the curriculum. Such schools as these will often talk about social inclusion, taking great care to overcome barriers created the difficulties children face.

That said, often these Community Schools will have differing approaches to similar issues faced by their pupils. Here are two contrasting approaches: A school principal explains:
“This is the community’s [school]…not my school, not the teachers’ school ……. people who live in the area are entitled to come here and it is our responsibility to provide an appropriate curriculum”.[Head] (Dyson et al, 2002, p 15)

By contrast, this school principal describes the community:
“In general pupils from … have very low aspirations. Very few aim for or get to university. Education is not seen as a priority. There is a very high risk of some male pupils turning to crime and some female pupils falling pregnant before they complete their education…. Peer group pressure is an enormous influencing factor, as is family life. We have third generation unemployment and we need people to realise that there are lots of opportunities. We must help them to help themselves. Also there are lots of pressures on children; lots of drugs, crime and lack of work opportunities. We must get children into nursery and get parents in at that point and keep them on board, give them parenting skills”(Dyson et al 2011. P33)
These are contrasting attitudes likely to be expressed in the detail of the provision offered. In the first provision is seen as an entitlement; the school is serving the community. Provision in such a school is likely to be shaped with and by the community. In fact in this case the school principal went to local community organisations and parents, presented the difficulties and asked them to work together to minimise the impact these issues would have on children’s ability to learn. In the second case provision is seen as a social intervention designed to save people from themselves. The implication is that people carry responsibility for their own failures. Where this attitude prevails the intervention is likely to be professionally shaped and led.Recently ICECS has received reports from NGOs in Kazakhstan and Japan that Community schools have proved to be very popular with parents and have become “elite” schools, retaining many of the Community School activities but with less of a focus on social inclusion.

5.Government policies

ICECS has researched government policies and find that many countries have policies and a legislative framework which is supportive to the development of Community Schools. So far only three countries have been found which explicitly supports Community Schools although international networking is providing advice and support to personnel at NGOs to push for an explicit policy.With a high failure rate governments have looked at Community Schools as a strategy to tackle poor outcomes for children.

Full service Schools are a feature of USA public school education policy and in February 2012 the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the latest, linked initiative to bring schools closer to their communities and working together with agencies to ensure a range of provision is available for pupils:
"Together for Tomorrow is aimed at changing the relationship between schools and community partners so everyone feels a shared responsibility to improve low-performing schools," said Joshua DuBois, special assistant to the President and executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. "Every child deserves an education that will enable them to succeed in a global economy. Faith and community groups are critical partners in this all-hands on deck moment.""Community and family involvement can be the make or break factor in successfully turning around low-performing schools," said Duncan. "Together for Tomorrow will provide real-life examples of how to effectively transform our struggling schools, and build a community-to-community support system that can help take this critical work to scale."

Launched in 2004, the government’s Extended Schools policy aimed to put schoolsfirmly at the centre of delivery for joined-up local services in order to improve childoutcomes. Informed by an evidence base of early success, the Government set out a core offer of services which all schools should be able to provide by 2010 (with half of all primary schools and a third of all secondary schools doing so by 2008). Extended schools offered access to a wide range of services from 8am - 6pm, 48 weeks a year, including school holidays. The core offer comprised:• A varied menu of activities (including study support, play/recreation, sport, music, arts and crafts and other special interest clubs, volunteering and business and enterprise activities) in a safe place to be for primary and secondary schools;• Childcare 8am-6pm, 48 weeks a year for primary schools;• Parenting support including family learning;• Swift and Easy Access to targeted and specialist services such as speech and language therapy; and• Community access to facilities including adult learning, ICT and sports facilities.In a Guide for Schools the government explained:
“Providing access to extended services, building on the best that schools and their partner organisations already do, is increasingly becoming part of normal business for schools. This is not just about extending the school day, but it is about recognising that pupils need additional support which can be provided by a range of other professionals and services to remove barriers to learning that exist outside the classroom and which prevent too many children from achieving their full potential.By offering access to extended services, schools are providing more opportunities for personalised learning and increasing parental involvement and support for their children’s learning, which research is telling us is the most important factor in driving up standards.Children who do not achieve well at school are most at risk of being involved in and becoming the victims of crime, unemployment and living an unhealthy lifestyle, and continuing on this cycle of disadvantage with their own children. A key determinant, therefore, of the success of extended schools will be whether we have raised attainment in schools for all children, particularly the most vulnerable. “(DFES a guide for schools, local authorities and their partner organisations Extended services: supporting school improvement)

UkraineWhilst the rationale for these two countries is similar, for Ukraine the emphasis is more on democracy and support to communities and provides an interesting contrast. To streamline services provision many schools in rural communities closed:
"One of the strategies to maximise the school resources was the closing the small schools or decreasing their level (from primary to pre-school) and at the same time to strengthen the hub schools by improving their learning conditions and providing school buses to transport children from nearby small schools.Another important factor in development of models of community active schools is the focus of the educational policy on the state-public model of school governance, which has been declared in many major educational laws. However, it is recognized that such a model requires further development and implementation. So – the Community School Program in Ukraine has become mainstream public policy.“(Natalia Sofiy,Ukraine Step by Step Foundation)

Future policy

In the West schools have been working hard on school improvement strategies but a focus on what happens in the classroom, although important, has its limitations especially when the pupils are multiply disadvantaged. Community Schools, however dynamic and enterprising, are unlikely to change outcomes for young people, especially where they experience multiple deprivation unless there is a systemic approach in which the public, private and voluntary sector all work together. Thus we are seeing pilot programmes leading to a call for a more holistic approach in public policy. A prime example is theHarlem Children’s Zonein New York and the experience from here is now being picked up in the UK by Save the Children. You can find more information in their publicationDeveloping Children’s Zones England.

6.Research findings

ICECS has undertaken desk research and would welcome the opportunity to work with anyone interested in further research on the effectiveness of Community Schools. Most research so far has been generated in the UK and USA and readers are advised tolisten to our recorded webinar. Here Professor Alan Dyson discusses his work in England, Reuben Jacobsen summarises the work he has done to synthesise research and evaluations carried out in the USA and Pam Boyd outlines the recent report by the school inspectorate for Wales.

Because there are different rationales for Community Schools then perceptions of an effective school will vary so research can be problematic because first we have to be clear about its focus – improved academic attainment; evidence of community development and increased activity by citizens in democratic processes; the recruitment and retention of particular groups of pupils e.g. girls; a contribution to other agendas such as improved health outcomes are all legitimate points of interest for Community Schools. There is no one single model of a Community School, not least because at its heart a Community School will respond to particular needs of its community. This again presents a challenge.

Whilst acknowledging the challenges, all point to some degree of success. For example, research inTulsa, USAshows that students in high-implementing community schools outperformed non-community schools in math by 32 points and reading by 19 points. Over five years, Communities in Schools, a national community schools model, conducted a number of studies using multiple designs, including rigorous methods such as quasi-experimental and randomized controlled trials. Researchers found that high-implementing CIS schools outperformed matched non-CIS schools on measures of dropout (.36 effect size) and graduation (.31 effect size) rates. For those students in CIS schools receiving targeted case management, studies demonstrated significant improvements over the control in dropout, retention, academics, attendance, and behavior measures. There are many other examples at both the school and initiative level of community schools that are demonstrating success.

Prof Alan Dysonagrees that his research and comparative studies show that the signs are good and that Community Schools are associated with higher academic attainment with Community School would require a more detailed and longitudinal study. He does say that Community Schools are associated with raised attainment and that they contribute to a range of other agendas such as health outcomes. The Welsh inspectors’ report points to a contribution in tackling the effects of poverty.

Research in African countries suggests that although they experience many constraints, they are more successful in the recruitment and retention of girls than their more traditional counterparts.

7.Current activity

International Quality Partnership
With funding support from the C S Mott Foundation several NGOs have been working together since 2008. Members of the team come from NGOs working in Armenia, Bosnia, Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine together with ICECS. Working together we have produced“The International Quality Standards for Community Schools”.

This is a self-assessment tool which schools can use to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to identify priorities school improvement for the coming year. The tool should be used in a partnership with pupils, parents, the wider community and other agencies – about 15 representatives are recommended. Together they assess their work in each of nine Standards. For each there are several indicators and for each indicator there are descriptors. The nine Standards are:

Leadership Partnership Social inclusion
Community development Lifelong Learning Services
Volunteering Parent engagement School culture

More information is available on this site under the headingsInternational Quality Standards for Community SchoolsandInternational Quality Standards for Community Schools - our thinking behind the Standards.

International network for Community Schools

ICECS convenes this virtual network and is starting to build a series of wiki pages. Everyone is welcome to share their experiences and add to/edit the documents found here. This is a new site which ICECS is developing. Soon there will be Case Studies produced by NGOs that are members of the International Quality Partnership, a report on a survey of NGOs supporting Community Schools in the emerging countries of Eastern Europe and central Asia and any materials which others wish to contribute or comment. During the next three months we will be setting upa dialogue sectionfor people to make their own contributionsThe programme of webinars can be foundhere.

Partnership projects in the makingICECS is committed to pursuing new projects in partnership with NGOs in order to a) disseminate information about Community School approaches and b) to demonstrate the contribution they make.With this in mind, ICECS is currently pursuing funds for a number of projects:Enterprise learning in Community Schools in Bosnia;An international network of NGOs as they help schools make the transition to Community schools in Bosnia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia;An international partnership with NGOs in UK, Sweden and the Netherlands to develop a teacher training programme on building external partnerships;Health agencies and Community Schools working in partnership in Uganda to eradicate earth-borne diseases in one area of the country.

8.An open invitation

ICECS welcomes all opportunities to network and will help practitioners meet each other to share debate and create new work together.ICECS is joining with other international networks where approaches and concerns overlap to build a platform for dialogue with governments and international agencies so that that legislative and policy frameworks can support the development of Community Schools. We welcome anyone who wishes to join us in this endeavour.We invite all practitioners, researchers, policy makers and donor organisations to contribute to our wiki pages.For direct contact, please

9.Concluding remarks

From so many starting points – a need to build an understanding of democracy at local level, tackling poor educational outcomes for pupils experiencing deprivation, the need to build a more cohesive society where there have been local tensions between groups – professionals turn to Community School as a possible solution. There is relatively little research as yet, but it is showing that Community Schools are associates with improved academic outcomes but it is becoming clear that they cannot work in isolation and that whilst partnership is an important element of a Community School’s work, there needs to be public policy that integrates services and galvanises public , voluntary sector and private agencies to work together, especially if there is to be significant gains for children and their families in the most disadvantaged areas. ICECS is building a community of learning for anyone wishing to support these developments and welcomes new members.

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