From school to children’s community: the development of Manchester Communication Academy, England.

David Dyson, Kirstin Kerr, Lynne Heath, Patsy Hodson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter explores the innovative approach taken by one school - Manchester Communication Academy (MCA)- to improving outcomes for children, families and community groups in one of the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in the city of Manchester, and indeed, in England. It argues that MCA embodies new thinking about how schools can become involved in tackling the interlinked problems of social and educational disadvantage. MCA is a ‘community’ school in that it is concerned not only with the academic needs of its students but with their personal and social development and with the development of the families and communities within which they live. However, unlike many community schools in the past, it does not seek simply to surround its traditional academic work with a few additional activities and services. Instead, it seeks to develop a coherent and comprehensive strategy for tackling disadvantage, and to do so as part of a wide-ranging partnership of community agencies and representatives. MCA’s efforts in this direction raise fundamental questions about the role of schools and the purposes of schooling in areas of social disadvantage – questions that have resonance well beyond the boundaries of the city where it is located.

In this chapter, we try to capture the distinctive features of what is being attempted at MCA. The evidence on which the chapter draws has been generated in the course of a research partnership between the academy and researchers in the Centre for Equity in Education at the University of Manchester. This partnership was established shortly after the academy opened in 2010 and has taken a number of forms since then. University researchers have worked with the academy on the development of its community strategy, the vice principal has undertaken doctoral research at the university, a second doctoral researcher has been ‘embedded’ in the academy and, latterly, there has been substantial collaboration on the development and evaluation – described below – of a ‘children’s community’ based around the academy. During the course of these activities, the university team has had access to documentation from the academy, to field notes from meetings and events, to interview data with academy staff, students, community agency representatives and local residents, and to the data and findings from the doctoral studies. However, the relationship between the university and academy is more than that of researcher and researched. Rather, it is a ‘critical friendship’ in which both parties seek to support each other’s work, but believe that they do so best by offering an independent and – where necessary – critical perspective. This chapter, therefore, offers a distinctive ‘insider’ perspective on the academy, but sets this in a wider perspective of critical scholarship. It is in this spirit that the chapter is co-authored by the leaders of the academy and the leaders of the university team.

With this critical perspective in mind, we avoid here any claims that MCA ‘s story is one of unqualified success. What is being attempted there is still very much a work in progress. While there have been important impacts and achievements, much remains to develop, and the thorough evaluation of its efforts is only just beginning. What matters about the academy, however, is the thinking about schooling and disadvantage – the ‘vision’ – which its efforts embody and the possibilities which that vision illuminates.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDeveloping community schools, community learning centers, multi-service schools and extended-service schools
Subtitle of host publicationinternational exemplars for practice, policy and research.
Place of PublicationThe Hague
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages37
ISBN (Print)9783319256641
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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