A family engagement programme, led by St Edmund's Community Foundation School and supported by the West Norfolk partnership, is having a positive impact on the level of absence within the school and is bringing about changes in the relationship between the school, the community and local families. Thursday, 17 November, sees the grand opening of the St Edmund's Family and Community Centre which will be a lasting legacy of the initiative.
The project, which secured £25,000 of funding from Improvement East, was established to look at why the level of absence at the school was high and what could be done to address the issue.
Research was carried out with other schools that have successfully tackled the problem and a range of initiatives were established to start to change the behaviours being seen at the school. These centred around creating positive experiences within the school environment not only for pupils but also for parents and other family members.
A reward scheme, known as 'Cheeky Monkey', was introduced to reward class attendance. A text messaging service was used to contact parents if a child was not in attendance, and staff have worked hard to engage with parents by getting them to organise and attend a variety of activities within the school.
As part of the programme, a redundant caretaker's bungalow has been converted into a friendly, accessible learning and information centre, which includes meeting/classrooms, messy play area and a kitchen that can be used for cooking classes or to prepare simple meals using vegetables grown in the allotment. A play therapy room has also been created within the school. The work could not have been completed without the assistance of parents who gave up evenings and weekends to help with the refurbishment.
Head Teacher Lisa Cook, explained: "What has become clear throughout this programme is that we all want to give the children the best possible start in life. It's been a real community effort and the difference we have seen in the school is amazing. Staff have worked tirelessy to engage parents in their children's learning. Parents have given up their spare time to assist with the refurbishment of the bungalow and to get involved in activities within the school environment and the children have really taken to the new initiatives that we are running in the school. Persistent absence was at 9.9% in 2009 and now it's 2.8% which is a massive improvement and I believe that we will now continue to see an improvement in attendance.
"We are very excited about the opening of the St Edmund's Family and Community Centre which will provide us with a place where parents, staff, children and members of the local community can come together to develop a whole a range of skills that will help them to face their daily lives in the future."
The St Edmund's Family and Community Centre is being formally opened on Thursday, 17 November, by the parents and volunteers. Those invited to the opening will be given a tour of the new facility and will be able to take part in a small celebration organised by the parents.
Borough council cabinet member Cllr Elizabeth Nockolds said: "The project is testimony to the great things that can be achieved when people work together. The school, the pupils and the parents are starting to reap the rewards of their efforts, the pupils' attendance and educational attainment are improving, parents' have renewed confidence in their own abilities and the staff have a growing sense of community and feel that they have bridged a gap between parents and the school."
Lisa Cook continued: "The school has turned a corner and for the first time standards at the end of KS2 are above government floor targets. This is a significant improvement and one we are very proud of."
In addition to the funding from Improvement East, the Regional Efficiency Partnership for the East of England, the project also received £10,000 from the West Norfolk Partnership.
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