In 2011 the social entrepreneur Danny Kruger visited New York to see the work of the Harlem Children’s Zone and tweets that he “came home dreaming of a Children’s Zone in London, bringing together schools, charities, councils & philanthropists to transform a neighbourhood.”
The result was the establishment of the West London Zone which will work with over 400 children in 15 schools this year, organising tailored support from 15 specialist charities to children at risk:
“We work with local schools, nurseries and children’s centres (our ‘anchors’) to identify the children and young people who would benefit from a range of new opportunities in school, provided by our partners. This work is coordinated by our Link Workers, based in the anchors, who work closely with children and young people to help them make use of the opportunities on offer. Behind the scenes, the WLZ ‘backbone’ team manages the finance which supports our partners and collects data on their performance.”
We are now starting to see some evidence of what is being achieved. The initial results from 2016/17 show an average 85 per cent of engagement by children with an academic improvement and an improvement in wellbeing “which are both statistically significant and attributable to WLZ.”
The way the charity is funded is also innovative:
“WLZ’s collaborative model of service delivery is reflected in the project’s innovative financing structure. The Collective Impact Bond (CIB) is inspired by the concept of a Social Impact Bond (SIB). For WLZ, it involves bringing together multiple commissioners – the ‘buyers’ of a broad range of positive outcomes for children and young people – from the public and private sectors, and multiple investors providing working capital to make the project happen.”
It is backed by a social investment from Bridges Fund Management. Councils, schools (using some of their “pupil premium” budget) and the Government pay on results.
“Pilot anchors” were Randolph Beresford Early Years Centre, Ark Swift Primary Academy and Phoenix High School. Details of the pilot are here. It reports:
“WLZ Value to Schools We have learned that schools value three outcomes which are core to WLZ’s model going forward: attendance, attainment, and mental wellbeing. Beyond this, schools were attracted by WLZ’s ability to target the right children, to reach beyond the school gates into the community, and provide local, strengths-based support. They saw WLZ’s positive engagement with children and families and appreciated the high level of contact time the Link Workers achieved with each child, as well as our ability to coordinate and performance-manage local support organisations and undertake high-quality outcome data reporting. Our ability to triple the funds that schools will commit next year via matched payments from the local authority and private wealth, with central government/Big Lottery top-up in addition, is also compelling.”
The most recent data confirms that children helped by WLZ are catching up with their reading:
“Last year, WLZ supported 41 children at a primary and secondary school with Real Action and Beanstalk – two of our charity partners who both focus on literacy and reading.
“Our analysis of English Reading scores at this primary school between December 2016 and March 2017 showed a statistically significant relationship (p<0.01) between minutes attended at partner reading support (Real Action sessions and/or 1:1 reading with a Beanstalk reading volunteer) and positive changes in reading score.
“On average, every 52 minutes attended led to a 1% increase in a child’s national percentile rank in reading.
“54% of the WLZ cohort lifted themselves out of bottom 20% nationally in reading after one term of reading support from Real Action and Beanstalk charities.”
“Preliminary analysis suggests that the average rate of improvement in mental wellbeing (measured by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, known as ‘SDQ’) among the WLZ cohort was double the rate of their peers in one of our secondary schools.”
Several schools and children’s centres in Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush are using WLZ:
- Phoenix Academy
- Ark Swift Primary Academy
- Randolph Beresford Early Years Centre
- Wendell Park Primary School
- Old Oak Primary School
- Ark Burlington Danes Academy
- Miles Coverdale Primary School
- Ark Bentworth Primary Academy
- Ark Conway Primary Academy
- West London Free School
- Sacred Heart High School
It’s still early days, I suppose. But what an exciting thought that this initial success could not only grow locally but be replicated elsewhere.