I recently attended an event run by the Civic University Network which was focused on how universities and schools could better work together.
At Bath we have a long history of working with local schools through a widening participation (WP) capacity, but I found this event challenged us to think beyond traditional approaches through WP teams, and instead to consider how both schools and universities working together could have a larger impact on their localities in addition to the education of young people.
The event highlighted that many schools have seen their civic role grow immensely as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, with school sites being used as test centres, as hubs for community support, schools providing support to families and more. Universities have also taken a greater civic role during this period, as we have seen ourselves here at Bath, and therefore, by working together could we potentially assist our communities in a more effective way.
One of the biggest challenges of working with schools is in accessing staff who have time to be part of projects or planning. It is no secret that most teachers are exceptionally busy, and during the current situation, this is more true than ever. The Civic University Network introduced the idea of working not with individual schools, but instead with School Trusts. Here in Bath there are a small number of School Trusts that represent schools across the region. They also have staff with greater capacity to work collaboratively on projects and filter activities to schools as needed.
Schools have the benefit of being highly connected to their local communities, with the ability to reach out to and communicate directly with a large number of people. However, their capacity to carry out any research or to provide interventions for these populations is limited. This is potentially where Universities can have a role in research, and also other organisations such as the NHS.
This event certainly made me consider our interactions with schools in a new light, and to see the potential for working more closely with schools in Bath as a conduit to larger programmes of activity involving local populations. As we develop our Civic University Agreement we plan to engage with local School Trusts to explore this dimension of our civic activity further. If you're involved in a School Trust in the B&NES or West Wiltshire areas we would love to hear from you.
- Katrina and the Civic Engagement team