I’ve never really liked the word “stakeholder.” Far too New Labour for me. This isn’t a comment or reflection on my politics, but an observation that the language of politicians is sometimes best left in their domain. Mr. Blair talked about stakeholders, and, suddenly, in late 90’s schools and colleges the buzzword made itself known. “Did we meet the needs of our stakeholders?” “Did we seek the views of our stakeholders?” “Did our stakeholders feel valued?” “How could we encourage more engagement from our stakeholders?” And so it started.
A school improvement plan was no longer a school improvement plan without a thousand references to the word “stakeholder.” And never once was the label itself examined and unpicked to determine what it really meant in the universe of education.
I remember thinking to myself a couple of years ago that successful education wasn’t built on buzzwords and stakeholders. I was asked what my then school was doing about parent voice? How did it involve them in the life of the school and how did I monitor the impact. Parents are key stakeholders, after all.
It was as I scrambled around in my head for a useful response which incorporated the word “stakeholder” that I realised, as I wasn’t in the Vampire hunting game, I needed a rethink. For me, it came to centre on education as partnership. Those who work with, alongside and in league with a school; those with a vested interest in making learning happen; those who help; those who advise; and even those who watch, inspect and judge. They’re partners and there’s no getting away from it.
So in my schools we use the partnership word when we talk of engagement, voice, involvement, collaboration and anything else that involves the perspectives and actions of others. If the learners are truly at the heart of what we do as a school, if each SIP objective is linked to impact on pupil learning, if each new idea, initiative or drive is centred around improving outcomes for children then everyone and anyone who can and should be involved does so in partnership. Even where there is challenge there is partnership – or at least there needs to be for it to be effective.
With this in mind one of my schools made a list of “partners” so we could see for ourselves how wide our reach had become. We quickly realised such a list would be difficult to exhaust. We also realised that the partnerships were all different: some were unquestionably equal, some we led, some we were led on, some were temporary and others were permanent. Some required work, some ticked over quite nicely on their own thank you very much. But ALL had value and NONE could be ignored.
Two years ago I set about arranging an event at school which would aim to capture, celebrate, encourage and improve partnership. Named “Discover Day” the event was conceived as an opportunity for parents, family, friends and the wider public to discover lots of information about our school, our partners and the work we do. Guests were encouraged to walk around the building, drop into classes and see what goes on in lessons, sit next to the children and see what and how they learn, look through books and take in the educational displays in classrooms.
Furthermore, we arranged for lots of our partners to be in attendance, with various information stalls in the school hall. Throughout the afternoon, visitors were treated to background entertainment by some of the school’s musicians. Refreshments were also readily available.
Then, towards early evening, we staged a presentation led by a variety of guest speakers from across our network of partners including talks on themes such as handwriting, e-safety, and the Manx Government’s Strategy for Children and Young People 2015-2020.
Discover Day was a success – though I must admit the “success” word is easier to write than to say. Just watch this news report about the event which features an interview with yours truly – I nearly make it through to the end without mishap, but my very last word – success – lets me down! Theres a bit of irony in there, somewhere!
With tweak or two, Discover Day returned to school a couple of weeks ago. Once again the idea of welcoming parents into school and gathering as many services, agencies and partners as possible all under the one roof proved valuable and went some way to showing that education really is built on partnership. You can read more about this year’s Discover Day here in a short report from the local press.
The event has become a firmly established part of how we look to improve engagement and celebrate partnership – and is an effective way to help inform our parental community. Discover Day will return in future years – I’d stake my house on it.