A blog from Erbil...

A positive message of partnership from Erbil

This is the view from my window today.

A room with a view of Erbil

It's probably not what you'd expect.

You can tell that's something's a little different!

That's because I'm composing this week's blog not in the usual surroundings of my study at home but from my hotel bedroom in the ancient citadel city of Erbil (also spelt Arbil or Irbil), the capital of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan in Northern Iraq.

Erbil Map

It's my third visit in two years.

I'm here just for the weekend!

The reason?

I was asked by British Council to lead a seminar for fifty Iraqi Headteachers on the role of schools in building community partnerships.  The request came as part of the EU-funded education reconstruction programme in the country that we have been supporting since 2011.  Hitherto this programme has been focusing on the wider role of PE and school sport in motivating effective learning across the curriculum and in the development of student leadership.  We have specifically been working with two secondary schools in Baghdad - Al Mansour Boys and Al Resala Girls.

The response of staff and students in these schools to the first phase of this programme has been amazing; watching the positive changes in learning styles and the empowerment of both teachers and young people in such challenging circumstances is one of the most proudly rewarding experiences of my career.  The photo below shows just one of the many superb learning resources that have been produced by the schools as a result of us working together on the programme - a scheme of work linking Physical Education and Physics:

Physical Education Erbil

The success of the initial phase of this programme has been what has prompted my visit over the weekend. We take it for granted that schools in the UK can be a focal point of their local communities.  Certainly at Park House we strive to build a range of partnerships with a wide range of clubs and businesses that will both enhance our own students' learning through the valuable links and extension activities and provide facilities and resources for these organisations to flourish in return.  It's a classic 'win win' which means that the school develops as a hub of its local community.

Finding the opportunities to develop such 'value added' activity has of course been far more challenging in Iraq for many years.  There are the obvious issues of school site security and access for starters.  As one Headteacher put it to me, 'why should a club be attracted to work for young people in my school if I have no facilities to offer them?'

That's not to say that these schools have not been remarkably creative in their individual approaches to the challenge. One of the schools has already forged a link between the sports science and medical departments in their local university that would rival any of the most innovative cross-curricular higher education partnerships that we have established. But such an approach is not yet widespread or typical.

So this weekend's seminar brought together ten Headteachers from each of the five major districts of Iraq.  Crucially, they came in strategic partnership clusters, with 'families' of primary and secondary partner schools represented together with their District Director of Education.

Headteachers conference Erbil

Headteachers from our Baghdad partner secondary and primary schools working together to plan community links with their inspirational District Co-ordinator, Mrs Khulood Al-Atar.

The seminar encouraged the schools to reflect on the work that they were already doing to consider how they might build further partnerships around parents, other schools, clubs and businesses  - critically for the purpose of widening opportunities for students.

The action plans that they produced at the end of the seminar reflected the incredible learning that had gone on across the weekend.  Ideas for new partnership building activities included:

Promoting a love of reading through parent led by bringing parents into schools to run a community library

Making links with universities and hospitals to develop an educational psychology service to provide support for students with learning difficulties

Action plan Erbil

 The action plan for partnership-building produced by the Baghdad schools


It was in preparing the content and structure of the seminar around these areas of our own partnership working that it really come home to me just how many wonderful opportunities we enjoy here at Park House.  And the value that they add.

Just a few that immediately spring to mind include...

The work of the PHSA  in ensuring that parents feel part of a welcoming community that extends beyond progress reports and subject consultation evenings (crucial though they are!)

The opportunities for leadership development provided by planning and delivery of primary PE lessons as part of the JSLA programme in GCSE PE

The way in which links with Reading Rockets Basketball Club are offering a pathway for our students to progress from recreational activity to elite performance through and beyond the curriculum as a 'satellite club' on the school site

IBM's mentoring of our Sixth Form students and support for our younger students in relation to job applications and interview practice

So many positive messages of partnership, at so many different levels.

A very different, but very inspirational way to spend a weekend!