Making a real difference. How one South London school is really helping their community. Head of Sixth Form and Community Action, Vikki Askew is bubbling with enthusiasm…

Posted on: 14 Nov 2013

Independent schools working with their communities – definitely win-win! At James Allen’s Girls’ School it makes us who we are. We want girls to leave school with a desire to give back. It should be second nature to them, and they get so much from it

London 2012 made volunteering seem natural, as it should be, and sixth formers in our south London day school love to have the chance to help our local community and local primary schools. Would-be medics, especially, jump at the chance to work at Turney, a local special needs school, although there is some red-tape to involve them in activities at residential homes, such as our local Cheshire Home, or at Nightingale House, for elderly Jewish people with dementia, or even visiting local isolated elderly people in their homes, clients of Dulwich Helpline. We also invite people into school, as we do, to a Silver Surfers group on Monday afternoons. These seniors love acquiring the technical know-how to shop online or Skype grandchildren, helped by sixth formers.

It’s trickier, but not impossible, to involve younger girls. Southwark Council piloted a legacy project with our Y7, in teams, to devise imaginative schemes to help their local communities that really worked at the grassroots. We also helped with another pilot scheme led by the social action charity, Envision, working with Transport for London. Over 12 months, the team used pedometers, invented competitions and led workshops, gave assemblies, designed a website and flyer, all to raise awareness of the importance of eating healthily and taking regular exercise, and the number of pupils who now walk to school has increased by 12%. They joined over 100 other young people at a special award ceremony at the London Transport Museum. Brilliant to hear that the ‘Active JAGS’ team was given a Diana award for their campaign. A nice bonus.

So many schemes to tell you about! Perhaps the one with the longest lifeline is our Saturday Literacy Scheme, started 16 years ago at JAGS, in which 45 Y10 mentors give extra help to 45 local Y3 children who are struggling. It’s good to read and write with confidence and it’s the combination of tutors and mentors that’s so inspiring for the children. The fact that it’s one on one helps the children to build trust; you are working with someone who listens to you, and just you. In Book Week they come dressed as their favourite book characters and have fun making up stories about, for example, what happened when Sleeping Beauty met Dorothy, designing colourful bookmarks and talking about what makes a good book.

As our pupils say:

“Saturday Literacy Scheme was something which really made me realise how much of an effect one person could have on another. It was really special because I felt like I had done something worthwhile every Saturday morning instead of just lying in bed, and it made me enjoy my weekends more.”


“The children’s journey throughout the year was amazing; their confidence flourished and all of their skills improved dramatically! One boy told me after a couple of terms that writing was now his favourite subject and he wanted to be a writer.”


Get the local community into schools. Keep connected through music. Anyone listening to the 150 children singing in the Holst Hall this July at JAGS’ 4th annual Primary Schools’ Singing Festival could hear what joy the children had making music with the Director of Music and some of our sixth form musicians. We host holiday courses three times a year for South London Youth Orchestra, bringing together talented and enthusiastic young musicians from all over south London and are edging closer to the day when we’ll have a state of the art Community Music Centre. I haven’t even mentioned the 5,000 Sports Club members, who happily use our sports facilities before and after school, at weekends and in holidays. We are very proud to share the wonderful facilities, materials and expertise we have. So yes, JAGS girls - and staff - give back for all the right reasons. It isn’t just a policy: it’s at the heart of everything we do.

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