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It's community that gets things done, says Bury St Edmunds headteacher Andrew Hammond

By Andrew Hammond

I hear that austerity is supposed to be over, but as headteacher in a community primary school, I am yet to see any evidence of this.

Swingeing cuts in public sector funding for education, social care and health services are leaving very significant numbers of our community in need of urgent help which they are just not receiving.

From public sector buildings in states of disrepair due to years of insufficient capital funding, to significant reductions in resources and specialist services once available for children and adults with special needs and disadvantages, the green shoots of post-austerity growth certainly aren't yet visible in my neck of the woods.

Andrew Hammond, headteacher at Guildhall Feoffment Community Primary School
Andrew Hammond, headteacher at Guildhall Feoffment Community Primary School

Such a pessimistic rant is rare from a stubborn and robust optimist like me. Surrounded by so much need, it is indeed difficult to remain chipper.

But there is still reason for optimism – for even though the prospect of increased funding to mend our public sector services is a distant dream, there is a way of plugging the gap; and that way can be summed up in one word: community.

It is community that gets things done, not local or national government.

In times of austerity, it is local people, pooling local skills and expertise that gets help pumped to where it is needed. I have always believed that we can achieve so much when we get some collective responsibility rolling. I don't have time to wait for government funding to trickle down to local authorities and their support services and then add my school to their long list of priorities waiting to be triaged.

I don't blame the dedicated people who work for local authorities and public services, who try their level best to provide support, with ever-shrinking budgets.

My school, like many others across the county, has a loyal and hard-working community supporting it – a group of compassionate, socially responsible stakeholders pulling together to address problems ourselves, without waiting for funding to come, because it won't.

I can cite so many examples in the last few months when a caring and observant person has identified a need, rallied an army of volunteers and set to work making magical things happen, whether it be improving the physical environment of our school, staging lucrative fund-raising events or giving up their time freely to support and motivate our pupils. All these things serve two important purposes: they get the job done, and they teach our children a very valuable lesson indeed – that community works. It always has done.

In the last decade or so, I have seen 'independence' often held up as an important aim of good teaching and learning; we want our children to develop independent minds and have their own independent aspirations.

Respecting individuality is vitally important, but is this what we value most? Is any one individual more important than the group? I think we are chasing the wrong quarry. What we really want to teach our children lies just beyond independence, and it's called interdependence. We want to encourage our children to see the real value in collaborating, showing social responsibility and, above all, being part of a caring and sharing community.

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