Whitley says ‘We know we can’
Release Date 08 October 2018
ONE of the most intensive neighbourhood-based research exercises ever conducted in south Reading has shown Whitley residents and school pupils are driven to overcome challenges to reach their dreams.
The Whitley for Real initiative (W4R) was developed by Reading Borough Council, the University of Reading and Whitley Researchers, in partnership with the community and other stakeholders.
The project explores the aspirations of young people in Whitley and considers the barriers they face to realise their hopes and ambitions. It also investigates how schools, families and the wider community can work better together to help young people reach their potential.
Dr Sally Lloyd-Evans, Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Reading, said: “Our research challenges the notion that young people and their families in South Reading lack ‘aspiration’. It’s an excellent example of why local communities should be at the heart of shaping the research that explores important issues and devising the solutions to tackle them.
“The project’s ethos of engagement and participation has created exciting new collaborations to put recommendations in place. As our research highlights, good communication and relationships matter.”
The Whitley Researchers, a partnership between the Whitley Community Development Association, local residents and University of Reading, gathered evidence during a series of innovative events and activities, which was published in a report titled ‘Aspiration in Whitley: Improving the collaboration between schools, families and the community’.
The report describes how strongly youth aspirations depend on (1) Place: The ideas and constraints young people are exposed to as they grow up shape their choices; (2) Relationships: Positive and collaborative two-way communication with (and between) the adults in their lives makes a huge difference to teenager outlook; and (3) Pathways: having aspirations is only part of the story – helping young people to explore the pathways to fulfilling their dreams matters too.
The report explored:
- Youth Aspirations
The research found: there is no shortage of aspiration among young people in Whitley but they would like greater support; they want their voices to be heard; effective family and friendship networks are essential and good relations with peers and teachers have a significant impact on happiness.
Recommendations include regular reviews and evaluations of students’ future hopes and pathways; more interactive sessions with children at school; more help for pupils to tackle anxiety and exam stress and more clubs and activities outside school. Role models, where they relate to the lives of young people in Whitley, are an important help in finding direction.
- Whitley Parents
Parents were found to be aspirational for themselves and their children but their own poor personal experiences of school could affect ambitions for their children to go on to higher education and participation in school events; most parents found school staff welcoming and approachable and felt a child’s happiness depends on good peer friendships, having encouraging teachers and good communications between parents and schools.
Recommendations include encouraging parents to be more engaged with their local schools; establishing a community-wide parents learning group to understand how and what their children learn and greater community use of schools.
- Teachers’ Views
Secondary school teachers expressed concerns about difficulties facing young people, including the problems they face at home. Teachers said communications with parents often revolved around child behaviour. This could be counterbalanced by increasing communication about the more positive aspects of child progress.
Recommendations include exploring measures to improve communications between parents and teachers; helping pupils understand the opportunities offered by higher education; focusing on the value of work experience and local employment opportunities and providing time outside of class for teachers to deal with the life issues facing young people.
There are stark levels of disadvantage in Whitley compared with some other areas of Reading but there is strong community spirit and a willingness to tackle local issues together. There are also difficult relationships between residents/parents and local institutions and service agencies and a lack of services and activities for young people.
Recommendations include Whitley’s most active and influential agencies leading a co-ordinated effort for the community to establish shared goals and aspirations; activities to encourage collaboration and improved relationships and an audit or register of local assets to encourage a more positive view of the Whitley neighbourhood.
Reading Borough Council’s Housing Services commissioned the research from its Decent Neighbourhood Fund with the University of Reading. The project was backed up by the Whitley for Real partnership, made up of local service agencies and community groups aiming to strengthen the local voice in Whitley, and it got under way in May 2017.
The Whitley Researchers carried out their research by holding events and interviews with key community stakeholders, parents from primary and secondary schools and students from secondary schools. Questionnaires were completed by teachers and a community panel of 10 representatives from local agencies took part in a ‘Question Time’ style community event.
The Whitley Young Researchers (YRs) was also created from a group of 9-12 students from the John Madejski Academy.
They designed a series of interactive research activities to open up conversations with primary and secondary school students in south Reading. An example was a game the YRs devised based on snakes and ladders, called The Aspiration Game, which encouraged open and honest conversations with their peers about the things that hold them back and what helps them move forward.
The findings and conclusions from the research were presented at the launch of the Aspiration in Whitley report at the John Madejski Academy on Wednesday 19th September where the next steps were also discussed.
The Whitley for Real Steering Group will transform into the Whitley for Real Action Group augmented with service providers, young people and their families to help translate the findings and recommendations into task-orientated future plans.
"The report gives a real insight into the issues faced by the community in Whitley and some innovative, practical suggestions which have come from the community" - Cllr Sophia James, Reading Borough Council
Cllr Sophia James, Reading’s Lead Councillor for Neighbourhoods and Communities, said: “The work carried out by the Whitley Researchers and the Young Whitley Researchers has resulted in one of the most detailed studies of the south Reading community ever produced. The report, compiled and published by the University of Reading, gives a real insight into the issues faced by the community in Whitley and some innovative, practical suggestions which have come from the community.
“I believe this impressive body of work will provide a firm foundation on which to build and enable the aspirations of young people, parents and the community of Whitley to become reality.”
Laura Ellener, Principal at John Madejski Academy, said: "We are so proud of the Young Researchers and their teacher Mr Allen who have been involved in this project. It has been fantastic to work so closely with the local community and the University to produce this important piece of research. The students at the Academy are developing fantastic leadership skills through their involvement in projects like these."