There are significant issues faced by adolescents and the senior members of the community and many of these are common to both groups. The Oxfordshire health inequalities commission report from October 2016 states wards in our local area (Blackbird Leys, Rose Hill) are in the top 10% most deprived in the country despite overall prosperity in the county. There is also a significant issue with loneliness affecting older people within urban areas of the county.
Project Duration: 1st September 2015—Ongoing
Oxford Academy’s Old School project invites members of the community aged 65 and over, with time on their hands, to come and share the benefit of their life experience with pupils from the Academy. Volunteers are teamed with individual students as part of a carefully-monitored project.
The initiative has been designed to benefit volunteers (senior partners) and students (junior partners) alike and external experts have been brought in to track their progress. Previous initiatives of this kind, which were trialled in the USA (over a period of a year and with primary school students), were shown to have a positive influence on students’ learning performance and grades. Research conducted by Manchester Metropolitan University into similar programmes also showed improvements in schoolwork as well as raised levels of confidence, self-esteem and happiness in both groups. We cannot guarantee positive outcomes, but we are hopeful that some of these benefits will be enjoyed by students of The Oxford Academy and our senior partners.
There are significant issues faced by adolescents and the senior members of the community and many of these are common to both groups. Professor Christina Victor, who has been the external evaluator of the project, comments “ The two loneliest groups of people in Britain today are on the one hand the over 70s, and on the other, the 16-24 year olds. If by one simple intervention you can address the problem for both groups, it has to be worth pursuing.’
The Old School project works hard to tackle these problems. By providing a safe place to visit at any time, senior partners are welcome to chat and catch up with other volunteers. Furthermore, they have full access to the school’s IT and other facilities, their junior partner can teach them everything from how to set up an e-mail address to attaching a photo.
For the teenagers, many of them come from larger, single-parent families and have no grandparents around. Having somebody to talk to about life after school and generally be their champion has a great effect on their confidence and self-esteem which, in turn, boosts their academic performance. Teenagers and senior partners are paired up one-on-one and meet up for a minimum of an hour a week in order to help each other in any way needed, and become part of the wider school community.
For older participants:
- A feeling of value through having an active contribution to make to the modern world
- Gaining a greater understanding and contact with modern life
- Overcoming irrational, media fueled, fear of teenagers
- Learning IT skills to function in and keep up with the modern world
- Overcoming fears of admitting to physical frailties like deafness and being unsteady
- Learning to ask for and accepting help
- Learning new skills
- Exercising the memory
- Having a future, not just a past
- Giving and sharing your lifetime of experience
- Friendship in the Old School community
- Opportunities for greater physical and cognitive activity
- Becoming part of Old School community
- Attending school events
- Greater understanding of community resources
- Greater understanding of young people
- Opportunity to have a positive impact on your community
For younger participants:
- Become more adult through having regular contact with seniors on an equal level
- Develop more mature relationships with teachers
- Become more self-aware and start to interrogate their own problems
- Begin to address their problems on their own terms by talking them through with their partners
- Make friends across the year groups with other students involved in Old School
- Greater educational engagement. Through partnerships they learn to appreciate that education is a path to what they want, not just what teachers and parents want for them
- The best way to learn is by teaching someone. Many Junior Partners feel that having Senior Partners in their classes and having to explain lessons to them, helps them learn. They also feel important and the fact that Senior Partners are so interested in their lessons makes them appreciate and value them.
- Learning to form strong, enduring relationships
- Protection, guidance and help in breaking the vicious cycle of bullying, especially cyber bullying
- The ability to build strong relationships is of enormous value in healing childhood trauma and curing loneliness
- Giving and sharing your experiences and time
- Friendship in the Old School community
- Opportunities for new experiences
- Opportunities for improving achievements in school
- Greater understanding of community resources
- Greater understanding of older people
- Opportunity to have a positive impact on your community.
Initially participants included 12 students from The Oxford Academy (14-18 years) and 12 volunteers (60+ years) from the local community however the project has now evolved to include 15 partnerships as well as 4 other pilot schools.
Students were either put forward by members of school staff or volunteered themselves, those who were put forward by staff were only involved if they then volunteered. Senior volunteers were recruited through various means including leaflet drops, recruitment drive at local shopping centres, word of mouth, approaching local groups/societies and recommendations from staff.
Our student and volunteer partnerships meet either once a week or once a fortnight depending on need and time available. Activities included:
- Meeting for a chat and a cup of tea; this has proved extremely valuable in tackling problems such as confidence, bullying and bereavement as it gives the opportunity to talk in a ‘safe’ environment without fear of repercussions.
- Seniors attending lessons – to help the students AND gives the seniors the chance to learn.
- Taking part in shared interests – Sport, Art, Music, Drama, IT etc.
- Most Seniors have been taught new ICT skills by their partner
- Focused support sessions – Interview/presentation practice and technique, help with specific subjects or piece of work, this has worked both ways with students helping their partner with ICT, maths and English.
All of these were/are facilitated by school staff but staff are not present during the 1 to 1 meetings.
We also had/have group activities each school term (6x per year), these have included:
- The Old School summer fair
- Easter Bonnet making & egg hunt
- Christmas tea dance
- Afternoon tea
- We are now planning our first Old School trip to a local place of interest
Senior partners are invited to attend whole school events such as the drama productions and sports day/fixtures.
We have also started a range of adult learning classes which are open to our senior volunteers and the wider community completely free of charge, so far we are running:
- English GCSE & A Level
- Maths GCSE & A Level
- ICT for beginners
- Adult ESOL
- Introduction to Childcare.
Benefits for the Community
- Improved community cohesion; all volunteers are from the local community
- Breaking of stereotypes surrounding old and young people
- Opportunity to engage in lifelong learning through community adult learning classes.
Benefits for the Younger People
- Improved attendance – up by 2% on average
- Improved academic achievement and attainment
- Improved behaviour in school
- Reduction in instances of bullying
- Improved confidence
Benefits for the Older People
- Autobiographical memory test up – this shows that in the first 6 moths of the project all seniors improved
- Mobility test scores decreased which meant that the senior partners getting more mobile therefore improving the quality of life.
- Socialisation up 40% – This is a reflection of time spent on their own Vs time spent with others.
- Organisation up 33% – This is a reflection of improved memory i.e remembering when meetings are.
Funding was secured from The Hamilton Trust, Big Lottery Fund and Greensquare
We are now working with 4 pilot schools across England (Bristol, Banbury, Leighton Buzzard and Knutsford) who have all started their own Old School project. We have the capacity to work with and fund 2 more schools (Perth High School are interested in setting up a similar Old School project in Scotland)
- All participants were/are monitored using a series of tests. Seniors are tested on autobiographical memory, self-esteem and mobility. The Junior partners are assessed using school data (Behaviour, Attainment, Achievement, Attendance) and self-esteem.
Evaluation is on-going through the big lottery project.
What would be done differently in the future?
- Recruitment of senior volunteers. It is easier to work with existing groups e.g. British Legion, U3A, local community groups.
- More regular whole group meeting/activities.
We have a number of resources including leaflets, guides that we are happy to share. Information on the Television series (Old School with the Hairy Bikers) and how to buy can be found here.
This project fits into the Academy improvement plan and is part of the community strategy, the aims of the community strategy are:
- To provide a rich variety of learning opportunities for our community
- To give people from our community the chance to progress further, whatever their age, skills, interests and starting points
- To support the wider needs of our community and contribute to its development and growth
- To build sustainable partnerships which can benefit the community
Our priorities are:
- Improve literacy and numeracy
- Have better links with our primary schools
- Broaden and enrich our curriculum
- Develop a wider learning community – improving parental engagement, family and adult learning, holiday programmes and leisure activities
- Improve employability skills, to include apprenticeships and entrepreneurship
- Create opportunities for Young Leadership
- Be a focal point for community provision and services, including nursery provision
If run in Scotland this project would contribute to the following:
SMARTER – Expanding opportunities to succeed from nurture through to lifelong learning ensuring higher and more widely shared achievements.
HEALTHIER – helping people to sustain and improve their health, especially in disadvantaged communities, ensuring better, local and faster access to health care.
WEALTHIER & FAIRER – will support activities that address inequalities and enhance skills, employability and job opportunities. It builds on the characteristics of solidarity, cohesion and sustainability to ensure that all of Scotland has an opportunity to flourish.
This project could also contribute to the Scottish National Performance Framework (NPF).
Scottish NPF Outcomes
Our young people are successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens: To enable children, young people and (subsequently) adults to thrive from an early age, and make a positive contribution in the 21st century.
We live longer, healthier lives: Securing longer healthier lives for the people of Scotland will always be a top priority for governments and individuals alike. There are significant challenges which can only be addressed by everyone in Scotland working together, pursuing this goal through improving lifestyles and life circumstances, and a shared ownership of an effective NHS.
We have tackled the significant inequalities in Scottish society.