Our School Governor Initiative is winning awards for the University – and making a real difference in the local community.
The playground is filled with the happy shrieks of children who are just starting out on their learning journey at Heald Place Primary School, Rusholme – one of the biggest primary schools in the region.
Ten miles away, 2,300 students at the other end of their journey, preparing for university or the world of work, work diligently at Oldham Sixth Form College.
Between the two is The University of Manchester, where our multi-award-winning School Governor Initiative is supporting both institutions to navigate challenges and deliver the best possible education to their young charges.
More governors than any other UK workplace
The initiative works to increase the number of University staff and alumni serving as local school governors. In 2015, we recruited more governors from our staff and alumni than any other workplace in the UK. Our staff and alumni account for 27% of all placed governors in the north-west region, giving us the most placed governors of any organisation across the whole of England. Mike Gibbons, the University's Director of Student Recruitment and International Development, joined the programme in 2013 and is a governor at Oldham Sixth Form College.
As is the case for all colleges, Oldham has faced big challenges and funding cuts in recent years, and Mike's input has been invaluable. Through his contacts, he has secured pro-bono market research and an external stakeholder survey, presented at governors' away days, arranged training at local colleges and a visit from the University's President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, and Professor Brian Cox. His success also featured in the Oldham Education and Skills Commission report, chaired by former Education Secretary Baroness Estelle Morris.
Despite these challenging circumstances, 80% of the Manchester schools that benefit from University staff expertise are judged good or better by Ofsted.
"Mike has some amazing ideas," says College Principal Jayne Clarke. "And he genuinely cares about our students.
"He asks good, challenging questions that ensure our decisions are well thought through. The contact goes beyond meetings – he phones us and emails us with links to articles that will help us, encouraging us to think more broadly."
Mike says: "I didn't know how much I had to offer. It's been really gratifying to use my skills for something outside my professional domain." Hatim Kapacee, Headteacher at Heald Place, speaks in similarly glowing terms about Rebecca Phillips, their University of Manchester governor and co-director of our Primary PGCE, who took the role to give something back' to the school that gave placements to her trainee teachers. He says: "Rebecca is absolutely amazing. She gets first-hand the challenges, the aspirations, the buzz, the positivity. She can tie that into the resilience and ethos she wants to create in trainee teachers. It works both ways. Firm footing in leadership goes a long way – if you feel supported, you see that challenges can be opportunities."
Tackling the 'cycle of poverty'
Hatim is a passionate supporter of the initiative and the University's goal of social responsibility. "If you are going to break the cycle of poverty that exists in inner-city schools, that's the way – joined-up thinking, connectivity," he says. "Together we are informing generations of students: if you work hard, look what's available on your doorstep."
Rebecca says: "It's a very rewarding thing to do. I don't just go to meetings – there are key events and celebrations, so there's a real sense of being part of the community."
Manchester City Council's Director of Education and Skills, John Edwards, is also impressed. "The University of Manchester volunteers are contributing to the improvement of schools in the most challenging areas – 79% are in schools where the number of pupils in receipt of free school meals is above the national average," he explains.
"Despite these challenging circumstances, 80% of the Manchester schools that benefit from University staff expertise are judged good or better by Ofsted."
The University of Manchester is unique in British universities for placing social responsibility as a core goal. For more information, visit: www.manchester.ac.uk/socialresponsibility.