A day in the life of a cheese slice: Fellows driving ambition

February 7, 2013 by
Filed under: Fellowship 

I often leave Fellowship events with every intention of blogging about them, but time slips by, my inbox beckons and the moment passes.  But last week I went to an event that has inspired me to pull my finger out for three key reasons – it showcased a brilliant and practical FRSA project, is a great example of ideas being shared between different groups of Fellows in true RSA collaboration style, and (most importantly) it taught me something new about how RSA Fellowship enables people to provide unique approaches to today’s problems.

RSA Fellows aren’t just providing a template – they’re listening and offering a bespoke package responding to the needs of the school and individual children
Sue Child, Headteacher Oakwood School 

Driving Ambition is a project that has been running in Banbury since early 2012.  It brings together RSA Fellows, schools and industry to attempt to raise the ambitions of students in the local area.

Fellows in Surrey, keen to hear good ideas put into practice, invited project lead Peter Jordan FRSA to share his experiences with a room full of forty-odd professionals, including three local head teachers.

I won’t try attempt to précis the entire Driving Ambition project (you can read more about it here), but Peter made some pretty common sense points for anyone wanting to bring together the worlds of industry and education in their area:

  • Work with your local schools.  You need a key point of contact at each of them, and success depends on the quality of these relationships.  Also, be patient and prepared to work around busy school timetables.  In Banbury this paid off – the North Oxfordshire Academy (where the original contact was a brilliantly innovative Head of Catering) has now employed someone to work full time on student career development partly as a result of the Driving Ambition project.
  • It is hard to involve local business.   Do everything you can to attract them – attend local working breakfasts, send letters, pitch to companies – but don’t expect too much from them.   This year, the students are taking an active role in recruiting businesses, and Peter is going straight to the head office CSR teams.
  • Use your RSA network of local Fellows.  In Banbury local MP Tony Banbury spoke at the launch event.  A local vicar is now working closely with the ethics teams in two schools.  National Grid (a Director is a local Fellow) are running one and two-day workshops on energy use with props, including a model town.  A local photojournalist is working with students who find it hard to express themselves verbally, documenting local work life to share across school.  And Peter, with his 15 years at Unilever and 20 years at Kraft Food HQ, knows an awful lot about supply chain – he’s running classes for year 11′s on turning raw materials into consumer goods.  He’s called them ‘a day in the life of a cheese slice’.
  • Only do what you feel comfortable doing.  When starting the group felt under some pressure to do something unique or radical, that their idea wasn’t ‘innovative’ enough.  But their aims were simple – just open the eyes of the students to the industry that already exists in the area, particularly beyond working in retail.

Which brings me to my own learning point.  When asked what Fellows could offer that the many excellent charities and enterprises out there could not, Sue Child, Head Teacher of Oakwood School in Horley in Surrey said what excites her most about the prospect of it in her school “is that RSA Fellows aren’t just providing a template – they’re listening and offering a bespoke package responding to the needs of the school and individual children”.

Tony Banbury MP speaking at the Driving Ambition launch

We spend a lot of time in the Fellowship team trying to think about how we can standardise our support for Fellows, and ways we can share universal experiences and good models for up-scaling.  Whilst this undoubtedly has value, what Driving Ambition has taught me is the key power of the local nucleus, of forming those key relationships (school/business) before building your model, and of being flexible to the community need where you are.

This is what strikes me about Driving Ambition, why I feel so enthused about it – it is modest but it is working.  It is not a registered company (or even a CIC), it doesn’t have a snazzy website (or even a blog), it isn’t promising global expansion anytime soon.  It is local but scalable, deliverable, and has a clear impact.  Whilst I’m not about to use this blog to contribute to the debate around localism (or even an area-based curriculum), I think there is something to be learned from this project about the value that groups of passionate and flexible Fellows can add to their communities.

This year, the students are taking an active role in recruiting businesses, and Peter is going straight to the head office CSR teams.

What next?  Well the Driving Ambition team in Banbury have just been awarded Catalyst support to help them reach more schools and more businesses in the area, so they will be (modestly) scaling their project in 2013/14.  And the Surrey Fellows group are in talks with three local Head Teachers looking to replicate and drive ambition in their area.

All this model takes initially is a group of committed RSA Fellows to get it going, so if you want to launch something similar in your area then get in touch.


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