Girl Power: creating community cohesion
18 October 2012
Jo Stradling, a Teach First employee recently visited Mulberry School for Girls, a Teach First Partner School - here she writes about her experiences on the visit.
I was part of a really lucky group of Teach First employees who got to visit Mulberry High School for Girls on Friday in Tower Hamlets.
It was a very timely visit for me, as recently my team and I have been contacted by a number of ambassadors who are keen to improve the aspirations and achievement of the girls in their school – we’re definitely noticing a trend in this area.
The culture of the school was evident from the second you walked in the door – the first thing I saw was a sign for the office of the School Women’s Officer; a School Women’s Officer – what an awesome job! One of the history lessons we popped in on was looking at why women have less place in the history books and questioning why Queen Mary was known as Bloody Mary when her father Henry VIII killed infinitely more people! The girls who showed us around were confident, eloquent and engaging. They talked of the enjoyment they got from acting as mentors to year 7 form groups – helping them address issues such as friendships and homework. The staff at the school were very keen that the girls had the opportunity to be leaders and positive female role models whilst still at school.
Despite being a Specialist Arts School, encouraging all its girls to take dance lessons as a way to improve their self-confidence, there was a real push in the school around female achievement in STEM subjects. Seven years ago the school had less than five students taking Maths beyond GCSE, now they have 3 classes at Key Stage 5.
I had never seen or heard of a school that invested so much in pastoral support for its pupils, engaged so fully with its local community and held so many successful partnerships. It was truly a multi-agency approach – they had everything from an in school Police Officer to an Arts Therapist, a Community Learning Co-ordinator to a Head of Creativity. The support was split into three teams that I got the impression work with each other a lot: the Social Inclusion Team, Community and Family Team and the Extended Learning Team, who between them covered emotional wellbeing, community cohesion, adult learning, creative projects, many school trips for parents and pupils, conferences and skill development (and those are just the areas I made a note of!).
I asked the Head Teacher, Vanessa, what she thought was most important in maintaining and building such strong relationships. Her response didn’t surprise me, but reinforced some really key points; everyone understanding and believing in the school vision (empowerment of young women and girls) and constant communication between all parties involved to ensure that any issues are resolved quickly, and that projects and responses could be truly aligned.
Due to the new Teach First 2022 Impact Goals (you might have heard of these, they are a hot topic at the moment!), created to guide our direction over the next 10 years, I had a lot of questions around how you measure impact to justify the amount of resources you dedicate to non-teaching staff. The school attributes a massive improvement in grades over the last few years to their various support initiatives, and sought to demonstrate the value of these through extensive anonymised case studies.
It was lovely at the end of the trip to be able to offer the school access to a whole network of inspiring women in the Teach First community, to support the various activities they put on for female students and mums in London (although they are looking to reach young girls nationally). I left the day truly inspired by a school that refused to accept sub-standard support services for their girls and set about creating their own multi-agency approach.