Improve school performance, enhance student wellbeing, and increase teacher engagement by embedding social action in the curriculum

By Alexandra Bamburova (MBA), Henley Business School, University of Reading

Social action gives students the mentality, ‘Oh, I can do something for someone else and I am doing it. This makes me feel really good’.”

Involvement in social action can help young people develop skills and real-life experiences and gives them inspiration and belief that they can make a difference. In some schools, however, social action is viewed as something ‘nice to have’ or extra that could potentially diminish effort from achieving outcomes such as academic attainment, student wellbeing, meeting Ofsted requirements, and employee engagement. However, from research with schools where social action is actively embedded in the curriculum, I have found that doing so can go hand-in-hand with, or even be a way of achieving these outcomes.

For my MBA with Henley Business School I conducted research on social action, on behalf of the #iwill campaign, with five secondary schools and three non-profit partner organisations in London and northern England in some of the most deprived areas of the country.

A crucial aim of my project has been to provide guidance for key stakeholder groups (government, schools, young people and parents, and local organisations) on establishing clear and consistent communication and creating a shared and sustained social action practice among them. To this end I identified four main themes:

  • Communication – When headteachers, senior leaders, staff, and young people and their parents communicate with each other about the benefits, opportunities, and achievements related to social action this has a positive effect on people’s motivation to engage in social action.
  • Motivation – Teachers in those schools that allow more ownership and flexibility in terms of incorporating social action projects in their curriculum are often happier, more motivated, and engaged.
  • Opportunities and mindset – Some families have negative perceptions of social action. This, in turn, may influence how young people see it. To develop the most effective communication strategy, schools ought to understand the needs, mindset, and attitudes towards volunteering of young people and their families.
  • Local partners – Creating mutually beneficial relationships with local organisations help schools develop their capabilities and the resources to support young people in gaining skills and real-life experiences through social action.

This is a quick top level introduction to the research, if you are interested in finding out more, you can read a more detailed summary of my research here.

This blog was originally published in December 2017