This post can be downloaded as a briefing document here.

Children’s Zones: bringing together Birmingham’s school support policies and its devolution and neighbourhood development policies to raise attainment and reduce inequality in education in socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods

Educational attainment in Birmingham varies a lot according to the local area, with low attainment closely related to areas of social disadvantage. All the research evidence shows that to seriously tackle inequality in education you need high quality teaching – best developed through collaboration between schools – coupled with the mobilisation of all the resources the community can offer. This is the Children’s Zone approach.

The Report to the Children and Education Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 19 February of the Examination and Assessment Results 2013 confirms how pupil attainment at every age is on average much lower in the poorer wards of the city. For example, in the Early Years Foundation Stage outcomes for the ‘good level of development measure’ differ significantly between wards, from 68% in Sutton New Hall to 35% in Shard End. At Key Stage 4 the Birmingham average for 5 A-C GCSEs with English and Maths is 62%, but there are 6 Wards below 50%: Kingstanding 48%, Ladywood 43%, Shard End 44%, Sheldon 47%, Soho 49% and South Yardley 48%.

The local authority’s strategy for raising attainment in schools in these wards is to broker the 13 teaching schools and their associated teaching school alliance schools to provide support. This is vital: the evidence shows that collaboration among schools is the most effective way to raise standards. But it is only half the story. It doesn’t engage with the social context of the school – the neighbourhood, the community, the local area.

Why a Children’s Zone? The importance of place

This is what Mel Ainscow, leader and researcher of the successful Manchester Challenge, says:

…closing the gap in outcomes between those from more and less advantaged backgrounds will only happen when what happens to children outside as well as inside the school changes. This means changing how families and communities work, and enriching what they offer to children. […] there is encouraging evidence from Greater Manchester of what can happen when what schools do is aligned in a coherent strategy with the efforts of other local players—employers, community groups, universities and public services. This does not necessarily mean schools doing more, but it does imply partnerships beyond the school, where partners multiply the impacts of each other’s efforts. (Ainscow 2012, pp307-8)

Towards a pilot Children’s Zone in Birmingham

A Children’s Zone brings together all the resources in a local area that can support the educational development of children and young people. They would include the following:

  • The schools – their staff (teaching and non-teaching), governors and parents
  • Other support agencies such as social services, youth services, the police…
  • Local community organisations and groups of every sort
  • Local community facilities – libraries, community centres, allotments, sports facilities, ‘places of interest’…
  • Local workplaces and companies
  • Ward Committee meetings, Neighbourhood Forums etc.
  • Other resources outside the Zone area: universities, arts and cultural organisations etc…

The building blocks are already there – they just need to be brought together

  • We have strong local networks of schools working together in areas of the city. In two wards – Northfield and Longbridge – the LA Schools and Settings Improvement team and HMI are working in partnership with head teachers and chairs of governors to improve outcomes for children on FSM. It just needs the community dimension building into it.
  • Transforming Place: A Neighbourhood Strategy for Birmingham (May 2013) aims to ‘Empower people to shape their neighbourhood’: ‘The idea is to create fertile ground for dialogue and joint action with local residents, businesses, investors and service providers on the needs, opportunities and priorities in each of the city’s neighbourhoods.’ (p3).
  • The Birmingham Education Partnership Board comprises headteachers elected by schools in each District, opening up the possibility of linking the BEP with the District Committees and Ward Committees.
  • Strengthening the Birmingham Family of Schools – the role of the City Council, a report by the Children and Education Scrutiny Committee (January 2013), recommends that ‘Elected Members commit to developing relationships with all schools in their ward and to becoming local champions for education’, including ‘Inviting head teachers to present to Ward Committees on school progress’.
  • Citizen Engagement, a new report by the Districts and Public Engagement Overview and Scrutiny Committee (published on 4 February), recommends that ‘Some strong pioneering effort should be promoted across the city for radical experimentation with new and different formats’ for Ward Committee meetings in order to open them up to full public participation (7.3.3.).

First steps towards a pilot Children’s Zone in Birmingham

The first step is for the local authority to identify a ward of high social disadvantage and relatively low school attainment which has two things: schools willing to commit themselves to making a Children’s Zone work and councillors willing to take the lead in building it in the community.

  • Carry out an audit of the schools serving the ward, identifying both areas for improvement and areas of particular strengths.
  • Carry out an audit of support agencies – local authority and other – active in the area: early years, social and adult care, education welfare, youth services, health, etc.
  • Carry out an initial audit of community resources in the area and nearby: institutions, organisations, bodies of expertise, community activities, sites of potential educational value, workplaces, and key individuals – and their existing links with schools, if any. (This doesn’t exclude drawing on resources outside the area, including other schools, FE colleges, universities, cultural resources such as the CBSO or the Nature Centre, and other workplaces.)
  • Bring together the school and community interests, together with councillors and relevant support agencies, to discuss and agree an Education Development Plan for the area.
  • Establish a Zone Partnership Governance Body comprising representatives of all the main participants in the Zone, with a strong community involvement.

Some useful sources about Children’s Zones

Ainscow M (2012) Moving knowledge around: Strategies for fostering equity within educational systems. .Journal of Educational Change 13:289–310.

Dyson A, Kerr K, Raffo C, Wigelsworth M and Wellings C (2012) Developing children’s zones for England. London: Save the Children.

Dyson A, Kerr K and Wellings C (2013) Developing children’s zones for England: What’s the evidence? London: Save the Children.

Save the Children (2012) Developing children’s zones for England Policy brief: October 2012. London: Save the Children.


One thought on “Children’s Zones for Birmingham – A BCASE briefing

  1. Pingback: Towards a shared vision for school education in Birmingham: a Children’s Zone approach – local area-based partnerships between the schools, the local authority and the community | Birmingham Campaign For State Education

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