During a recent work trip to Manchester, members of the Children’s Neighbourhood Scotland team took the opportunity to visit Manchester Communications Academy (MCA), a creative, innovative and inspiring secondary school which has the whole community right at the heart of everything they do.
Opened in 2010, and with the words “with you… for you… about you” at the front door, the school specialises in communication-related subjects including speaking and listening, languages, drama, media and presentation skills, and information communication technology for over 1,200 students (ages 11-16 years) from “over 40 nationalities… (but who are) one community”.
The staff and school believe passionately in the power of an excellent education to transform lives and provide new opportunities and life chances for young people. The school also focusses clearly on the value of extra-curricular activities which provide opportunities for further engagement, participation and fun while growing and developing experience and knowledge.
Community College and Family Zone
At the heart of the school, physically, consciously and intentionally, and the focus of our visit, was the MCA Community Zone, and specifically the work of the Community College and Family Zone.
Led by the MCA Social Investment team, the MCA Community is committed to providing opportunities for learning, education and social and recreational activities to people of all ages living in the communities of North Manchester. The MCA also provides a home to more than 30 local community groups, from football, theatre, singing and local history to yoga and the army cadets. It provides a programme of a wide range of activities for all community members, with over 1500 local children, young people and adults coming through the doors every week. To accommodate this the school is open till 10pm 50 weeks of the year.
It was clear to us that the school is an accessible, recognised and welcoming resource for the whole community.
Local adults’ opportunities
We spent time with the staff of the MCA Community College and heard about the learning and development opportunities provided to local adults. The Community College offers a diverse range of qualification and non-qualification courses for adults in an open, flexible and responsive way. They include English, maths, skills for the retail and hospitality sectors and teaching assistant training.
We heard how the College is currently reaching about 50% of the eligible learning cohort and how more than 250 adults took part in courses at MCA last year, with over 75% of them going on to positive destinations such as employment, volunteering or further training after completing their course. The College strives to “create an environment of lifelong learning”, to actively engage with more local adults, whilst for many “recognising the journey it takes to get there”.
Further strengthening its ties and commitment to the local community, the MCA initiated the Family Zone, a collaboration of 17 primary and secondary schools situated within the surrounding neighbourhoods of North Manchester.
Best economic and educational outcomes
We heard how the focus and effort of the Family Zone is on the children and young people of the area and how the collaboration works to secure the best economic and educational outcomes for local children in the context of a safe, happy and memorable childhood. The development of this approach has been supported by the introduction of a pastoral tracker. The pioneering work of the Zone is focused on three areas:
- The child’s home and family context, to identify, build and nurture assets and resilience.
- The local schools, where a pastoral tracking and intervention system will provide a pipeline of support regardless of where a child is educated.
- The local community where a range of programmes will be offered but which will also outreach into school and the child’s home.
A key development of the Family Zone is the establishment of a Forest School which we were lucky to be able to visit during our time at MCA. The development of Forest Schools has seen the involvement (so far) of nine local schools, the vision to develop outdoor learning spaces for the benefit of their students and the wider community.
Each of these sites was developed to take account of the uniqueness of the local environment and setting. We heard about how the sites are used during the school day with the young people experiencing the outdoors, learning about nature and the environment, how to safely use tools, build shelters and camp fires. The MCA site is also being used as an inspiring alternative learning space for different areas of the curriculum.
Community events for families
The Forest School site at MCA is not just in use during school time, with the school putting on community events for local families, including a family barbecue, an Easter trail and a successful Father’s Day bird box making session.
It was great to get a chance to meet and spend time with the passionate and motivated team who shared their work with the communities of North Manchester, their journey so far and their ambitions for the future.
For the CNS team this visit highlighted the possibilities for community engagement through shared learning, skills development, support and fun and the value of an approach that is both diverse and bespoke in responding to the needs of the community.