Case study: Dunraven School – Student Engagement Department

An asset-based approach to a school community

Since September 2013, the Student Engagement Department (SED) at Dunraven Secondary School have pioneered an asset-based approach to engaging their more challenging students and families in response to the ever-increasing need to prevent them from permanent exclusion.

The asset-based community development (ABCD) approach has been used to develop tools and language that assess and identify the existing strengths and potential of students and their families that can then be mobilised within the school community.  This demanded a change in focus from a traditional deficit system and it also required a change in the mindset of teachers, students and their families to view the entire school community differently; schools are often seen as separate ‘fortresses’ where children are the recipients of education from ‘experts’ and their school and community life are juxtapositioned but aren’t expected to mix.

The new approach views the school as a community in its own right, with relationships and assets at the very heart and each and every community member (students, teachers, families) as an untapped resource with something to contribute. Where traditionally, money and staffing had been relied upon to improve student outcomes, now relationships are the key resource and these are not limited by budget cuts and staff shortages.

“It takes a child to raise a village.”

Now students referred into the SED are offered a range of opportunities including group work, peer-to-peer support and co-production. Teachers are trained and mentored by the SED staff in appreciative inquiry and are encouraged to share their talents beyond those related to teaching.

The approach has been embraced positively by the whole school and the everyday language is becoming more appreciative as a result. But the best news of all is the effect it’s had on the students. Co-production and the asset based approach has improved both academic outcomes and commitment to learning from some of their most challenging students at risk of permanent exclusion. Over the last two years, their GCSE outcomes have vastly exceeded both local and national averages. There’s not much better evidence than that!

We’ll be talking to one of Dunraven’s pioneers – Mohamed Abdallah – later this week to hear about his experience firsthand.

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