Case Study

What difference does Haringey Learning Partnership’s outward-facing community approach make?

Background

Haringey Learning Partnership is a network of alternative provision schools and services working across the borough of Haringey, formed in September 2020 as part of Haringey Council’s Model for Change strategy. 100% of students at Haringey Learning Partnership have identified special educational needs (SEND), 35% of whom have Education Health Care Plans either confirmed or in the assessment process. Just under 50% of students are eligible for Free School Meals and 56% are registered as having English as an Additional Language.

Haringey Learning Partnership has five sites and at one of these, Commerce House (formerly the TBAP Octagon AP Academy) the majority of students have been excluded from their mainstream school. Historically, students of Black Caribbean, Black African or Mixed Black Caribbean & White heritage are disproportionately excluded from mainstream schools in Haringey. Black boys and those with SEND are even more acutely affected.

Haringey Learning Partnership was formed as part of Haringey Council’s public health approach to addressing serious youth violence, as it is recognised that children and young people who are excluded from school are more vulnerable to issues such as child criminal exploitation and serious youth violence, as well as being at greater risk of not acquiring 5+ GCSE passes at the end of Key Stage 4; becoming what is known as Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET); and suffering poorer physical and mental health than their peers. Since its formation, Haringey Learning Partnership has adopted an outward-facing community approach, with the dual aims of improving the life chances of those who have been excluded and working with mainstream schools to reduce exclusions.

This case study is primarily focused on the work at Commerce House where most excluded young people attend. As stated, students of Black Caribbean, Black African or Mixed Black & White heritage are disproportionately excluded from Haringey mainstream schools.

What matters when creating Haringey Learning Partnership’s approach?

Commonly agreed values matter. Haringey Learning Partnership’s school values were created and agreed upon by the entire school community in September 2020. The school’s leadership team felt it was important that students, staff, parents/carers and governors had an input if the values were to be upheld. One of these shared values is to ‘celebrate diversity, value kindness and challenge prejudice’ while another encourages everyone to ‘take pride in ourselves and in our community’. This informs everything that is done – from celebratory community events where the community is invited into the schools (e.g. a Black History Month exhibition & Windrush celebration event) to community outreach work, such as student artwork and an annual photography exhibition being on public display in sites around Tottenham.

The young people and their voices matter. These opportunities for young people to be publicly celebrated demonstrates to them that their voices matter and that they can play a crucial role within the local community. Other examples of this include: use of social media to highlight excellent work, behaviour, progress, achievements, successes; setting up a student council; inviting students to speak on panels or to members of Haringey Council and to MPs about social justice issues; and training students to lead tours and events around the school when we have external visitors.

Schools like Haringey Learning Partnership matter. It has also been important for Haringey Learning Partnership to shed the negative perception that was associated with it being alternative provision. Staff have made determined efforts to ensure that Haringey Learning Partnership feels like a ‘normal’ school that is part of students’ educational journey, rather than the ‘end of the road’ as it was previously viewed. Examples include students designing and choosing a new uniform last year, renaming the sites as ‘houses’ and referring to them exclusively as schools, not Pupil Referral Units (PRUs). Haringey Learning Partnership has worked hard to build relationships with other schools and local businesses, inviting external visitors in whenever possible, to demonstrate what is on offer and allow people to see first-hand that their perception of the school and students are not always accurate.

Representation and diversity matter. The number of senior leadership team members who are from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds has doubled since September 2020 (from 2 to 4). This is not only important in terms of ensuring students have role models in senior positions but also in terms of ensuring the strategic leadership of the school is informed by a diverse range of perspectives and experiences.

Students’ families matter. Family engagement has played a significant role, with a dedicated Family Engagement Officer who is trained in systemic family therapy and also leads on practical support such as voluntary parenting workshops and supporting parent/carer enterprise workshops.

What students learn matters. Ensuring students value their education and can see a future beyond the school is also vital. Haringey Learning Partnership always seeks to develop and enhance the curriculum offer, and ensures that every student has the opportunity to achieve at least five qualifications (typically eight to ten) to allow them to access college or sixth form at Key Stage 5. The school has a dedicated careers advisor, as well as external links such as INTO University, in order to support students onto their next steps.

What has been the impact of the changes so far?

Internally, at Commerce House, behaviour has improved to such an extent that the use of an automatic locking system on every single door that was traditionally in place is no longer required and students can have similar freedom of movement that they would have in a mainstream school. Students are not searched every morning as had previously been standard practice, and as is standard in many PRUs. Haringey Learning Partnership staff are aware that many students have experiences of being stopped and searched by the police – for some young people, this has been traumatic. Each student has a risk assessment so there are cases where they may need to be searched, but there is no longer the assumption that because a student attends Commerce House, they must be carrying a banned item with them every day. Staff no longer carry walkie-talkies as the site is small, there are plenty of work phones available – students had commented that the walkie-talkies made the environment feel prison-like. Though staff received safer handling training last year as it was standard practice, Haringey Learning Partnership has found that students’ behaviour has improved to such a degree as to render this training redundant.

In 2021, Haringey Learning Partnership gained the Silver Award at the Pearson National Teaching Awards for ‘Impact through Partnership’, based on its work with the local community and over 30 different organisations providing enrichment opportunities for students.

There has been a considerable reduction in the number of students who go on to be NEET and though outcomes last year were based on teacher assessment because of the pandemic, they were much improved on previous years. Attendance has increased to 90.03% which is significantly above the national average of 65.6% for alternative provision. There have been no fixed-term exclusions since Haringey Learning Partnership’s formation and in the first half-term of 2020 alone, 15 students reintegrated back into mainstream education, with all but one passing their 6-week reintegration period.

In June 2021, following Haringey Learning Partnership’s Windrush celebrations and the unveiling of the Windrush mural created by staff and students, one local resident wrote:

“Thanks to you and the school for inviting me and the community.  It was a great afternoon.  I learned so much about the Caribbean migrant experience. I can now see your school from my flat window with new eyes and think of all the wonderful work you are doing with the young people.  I talked to some of the teachers and other staff and was impressed by their commitment. 

I have lived here opposite the school for 6 yrs and didn’t know anything about your work. Every time I take a walk down Commerce Road I will look at the fantastic mural! 

Thanks also to the council for bringing the school back in-house so that it is more focussed on young people and the community.”

What do the students think about Haringey Learning Partnership’s approach?

“Before I started at Haringey Learning Partnership, I didn’t think I was good at anything. The staff have shown me I can do better and achieve things.”

“I can see a drastic change in my behaviour towards learning and school overall… I have really enjoyed my time here. I’m a little distraught that it is coming to an end but it has really helped me be conscious of more things and learn new things about myself as well as being equipped to make a gigantic difference for when I return to mainstream.”

“[Being excluded] made me realise I need to take my exams as seriously as possible and achieve the best possible grade for my subjects. Thankfully Respite also took my matters seriously and helped me too which I can’t describe in words how thankful I am. After I finish my secondary education and obtain my assessment results I’ll be starting my next term in college. I’ve applied to study A level Biology, Chemistry and Maths. These A levels will be necessary when applying for courses at university.”

What next for Haringey Learning Partnership?

Dealing with the impact of the pandemic is a significant, ongoing barrier for any school, but is particularly acute when working with such vulnerable young people. The new Alternative Provision Taskforce funding has allowed Haringey Learning Partnership to access more therapeutic support for students, and this team of professionals will have a significant role to play in mitigating the impact of the pandemic.

Data for this year indicates that Key Stage 4 students will perform better than pre-pandemic outcomes but this will be the first year that Haringey Learning Partnership has held external GCSE exams so supporting the current Year 11 cohort is a high priority. The nature of alternative provision means that students join and leave part way through a year, which brings unique challenges when it comes to ensuring every student receives the same (number and quality of) opportunities, as there are some points in the year when there are greater or fewer events, visits and projects. It is a priority to build in as many of these opportunities for as many students, as consistently as possible.

Continued outward-facing work with mainstream schools to reduce exclusions across Haringey is another important priority. This will include case study analysis, analysis of data, challenging the disproportionality of exclusions in schools and working with schools to build more inclusive practice. Haringey Learning Partnership is ready and excited to keep moving forward with these aims.

About the Authors:

Gerry Robinson

Gerry is Executive Headteacher of Haringey Learning Partnership, a network of alternative provision schools and services across Haringey. Gerry is passionate about raising achievement and eradicating educational disadvantage through inclusive education in inner London schools.

Tweets at @gerryrobin5on

Penny Rabiger

Penny Rabiger is a governor at West Green Primary School, co-founder and Trustee of the BAMEed Network, and a researcher at the Centre for Race, Education and Decoloniality, Leeds Beckett University.