Community and innovation are two of the defining characteristics of the free schools programme, and this has never been more apparent than during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Since schools have closed to the majority of pupils, free school leaders and staff have been going above and beyond to provide for their pupils and communities, and they are building firm relationships along the way.
One of the biggest challenges that schools have been faced with during the lockdown is making sure that all pupils can access the technology that they need learn remotely. At Compass School Southwark, leaders realised early on that this would be an issue owing to a high percentage of disadvantaged pupils.
The school wasted no time in setting up a fundraiser with the hope of securing £10,000 to purchase the laptops it would need for its students during lockdown. However, pupils and staff were astonished when three weeks into their campaign, £35,000 had been raised by the local community. The school strives for the best outcomes for its pupils, and through its own initiative and local stakeholder relationships, it is making sure that no student is left behind.
Free schools across the country have also been giving back to their communities by offering much needed support to local families. By partnering up with a local food bank, Eaglewood School in New Forest has been able to support vulnerable families of students to guarantee that they are receiving food supplies during lockdown. Eaglewood worked alongside another local school so that the food bank could deliver this scheme, showing how important collaborative working is for schools that want to support their community.
Free school responses to the pandemic have also shown how leaders are motivated by the values that underpin their schools. At Atherton Community School in Wigan, it has been clear to see how the school’s vision, which centres on bringing transformation to the lives of pupils and their communities, has helped to shape the fantastic outreach work that students have been doing during lockdown. While the school was still open to the children of keyworkers, Wigan Council asked if students would be happy to write letters to the elderly across the county, as many of them had been worried about local young people. As well as these letters being an important act of kindness for their community, this also helps develop a child’s understanding of how they can be an active and responsible member of society.
Thinking outside the box is something that free schools are used to and the pandemic has been no exception. No one could have been prepared for the challenges that a pandemic would bring to the education sector, but given the ups and downs that come with opening a new school, free schools have shown that they are resilient and adaptable enough to keep doing what they do best during this period.