Hackney Persuades Pipils To Try

The London Borough of Hackney - the third most ethnically diverse local authority in the UK - was struggling with low levels of school attendance by some of its poorest students.

The Learning Trust, a not-for-profit organisation that runs education services for Hackney's 27,000 school pupils, was concerned that many young people - particularly those with ethnic minority backgrounds - were under pressure from peers to skip school. Research from focus groups found that students would approach learning more positively if their achievements were recognised by the local community. As a result, the trust launched its ‘Trailblazers' scheme.

To develop an engaging campaign, with a distinctive identity, that is attractive to sponsors. To publicly celebrate the achievements of Hackney students and improve media coverage of the borough's education services. To combat negative stereotypes of Hackney schools via case studies, while inspiring students to study hard for their GCSE exams.

Strategy and Plan
The Learning Trust wanted to be associated with as many high-profile events - involving parents, children and the wider community, including local businesses - as possible. As a precursor to these events, a poster campaign in secondary schools, featuring exam-revision wall planners, kicked off last March. This was followed by bus and billboard messages, which wished students luck in their upcoming summer GCSE exams. Meanwhile, details of the Trailblazer scheme were sent to all Hackney schools, where heads were invited to nominate high-achieving students in the fields of sport, creative arts, music and academia. From these entrants, 180 were chosen as ‘role models' to speak at various photocalls.

These included a display of students' work; a trip to Parliament with Hackney MP Diane Abbott; a ‘bright sparks' debate at the town hall; and a ‘sporting extravaganza' supported by Tottenham Hotspur footballer Phil Ifil. Case studies of the students involved were sent to local press.

Measurement and Evaluation
Students appeared on ITV's London Tonight, and the BBC's Newsnight and Radio London. On Choice FM, a phone-in was held on the importance of recognising young people's achievements. The Hackney Gazette covered a number of events from the campaign, and ran three double-page spreads. Headlines included ‘Blazing a trail', ‘Trailblazing teams' and ‘Stories of success'. Further articles appeared in Hackney Today, The Voice, New Nation and the trust's community newsletter, Learn.

All Hackney secondary schools participated in the campaign, and six sixth-formers were allocated higher-education sponsorship under the trust's University Bursary. Five were awarded £15,000 to attend the university of their choice, while one student has been granted £23,000 to attend Scottish private school Gordonstoun.

The Government is basing its London-wide schools recognition programme on the Hackney initiative. At six out of eight secondary schools last year, at least 50 per cent of pupils gained five or more GCSEs (graded A to D). In 2002, only one secondary school hit this target.

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