Establishing Community Space within the School

Short summary

First of all, it is important to know that the institution concerned is a state-maintained secondary school providing secondary vocational education and vocational grammar school training in a group of architectural jobs. Because of the construction industry’s low prestige, a certain proportion of our pupils are under-motivated.

In the case of pupils, conflicts and problems in their previous education history are typical (grade retention, deviance, school leaving and truancy, involuntary change of school, etc.). The gender distribution of pupils reflects the fact that due to the nature of construction industry jobs mostly boys attend our institution; therefore in our programme, we have had experience mostly with boys.

As a result of the pupils’ previous school career, the age distribution of pupils enrolling in our school is very wide. Among those who are attending vocational study programmes, some pupils have already passed their maturity examination, who are subject to other frameworks and rules. They study in the same class as their 9th-grade classmates who have just begun their vocational studies, but they only attend certain lessons. The institution’s strength is that the assisting professionals form an integral part of our teaching staff, and they react to the arising problems rapidly, in cooperation with the teaching staff. The existence of the community space helps the professionals and the teaching staff in doing this work.

When the internal settings were developed and the programme was under development, the assisting professionals could use funds from a grant. Then, the idea was to establish a community space offering an alternative to spending free time usefully. The intellectual basis was provided by the youth offices which were operating at that time (BIIRSZ, Association of Budapest Youth Offices,

The concept was later extended by the idea that professionals should be present during the opening hours of the community space. According to our observations, our pupils are not socialised to use such form of assistance; however, our experience has proven that in this space both making and maintaining contacts are a lot simpler. A possible example illustrating this: in the paediatrician’s consulting room the paediatrician gives the vaccination to an anxious child in such a way that the child’s attention is diverted from the real situation. In concrete terms: while playing foosball or chess, a relationship of trust is established between the client and the assisting professional in such a way that there are no formal elements which would be strange or frustrating for them in the course of the assisting discussion. Those elements are reintegrated later on, in the course of individual consultations, because this is already made possible by the relationship of trust with the client.

The community space can be found currently in a classroom which is not being used for education purposes. Normally, it is open during the school’s long breaks, and it is operated in the presence of the assisting professionals, if needed. It can also be used as a club room for an hour as a recompense, in case of a completed series of activities, of good results achieved by a class or of any action which the form teacher considers rewardable.

Our activity could be summarised as follows: instead of getting involved in a bad company or hanging about, we offer a space for managing anger or intraschool community building (across classes).

Context of good practice

The school was founded in 1958 by the ex-Ministry of Labour, as well as by the Ministry of Construction. In the first school year, the training programme started with ten classes in six professions, with 350 pupils. The pupils’ instruction was provided by a teaching staff comprised of 17 teachers and 20 vocational trainers. Thirty years later, already 3165 pupils in 96 classes and 16 trades were educated and instructed to their chosen trade by 165 teachers of the school’s teaching staff and by 124 company-based vocational trainers.

Within vocational school training, our pupils could obtain a vocational qualification in nine professions belonging to the group of architectural jobs.

Those who have already had a vocational qualification and have completed the 9th and 10th grades in our vocational school, had the opportunity to obtain a secondary school leaving certificate within a 2-year secondary vocational school training.

In the Secondary Vocational School of Ornamental Arts, the artistic vocational training started in 1990, which was a five-year training programme for our pupils coming from primary schools; the launched programmes included a stone sculptor, an ornamental sculptor and an ornamental painter programme, which were mostly related to the previous profile of the school. The last class graduated in 2012.

Upon the Decision of the General Assembly of the Capital’s Local Government, from the 2008/2009 school year onwards, our school has been continuing its work as a VET School of the newly established Regional Integrated Vocational Training Centre for Construction (Hungarian acronym: TISZK),as the main institution of the TISZK, together with its peer schools, the Schulek Frigyes Bilingual Technical Secondary Vocational School Specialised in Construction and the Pogány Frigyes Bilingual Secondary Vocational School and Grammar School Specialised in Construction. Our training offer has been extended by the building construction, civil engineering and building material technician programme, as well as the bridge, road and railway construction and maintenance technician programme belonging to the area of transport construction, which has been transferred to our school from the terminated Kvassay Jenő Secondary Vocational School. This is a huge professional challenge and responsibility for us, but also a recognition of our work that has been done so far. Thus, we provide training in the above professions as a unique institution in Budapest and Pest county.

Our school celebrated its 50th anniversary in the 2008/2009 school year. Simultaneously, the name of our school also changed. It has been a pleasure and we have been proud of the fact that the youth of our school has received Miklós Ybl as an eponymous example, who justly belongs to the biggest architects and master builders of our nation, due to his diligence, talent and humaneness.

Following the working and studying communities’ work in the last years and decades, currently, we have a professionally appreciated, well-established institution which has continuously proven and is proving its ability for renewal still today. Besides conserving human and professional values and traditions, it is assuming its role as a creator and transmitter of values by educating and instructing the generations growing up.

And which is all the more uplifting for us: to date, a total of approximately 53 thousand people have studied, have obtained their craft certificate or have passed their maturity examination in our school.

Many of the former pupils or their children have been in management positions in different fields of the society or have been in education jobs in our school after their higher education studies.

Currently, our institution has nearly 300 pupils and is part of the Budapest Complex Center of Vocational Training (Hungarian acronym: BKSZC) as a larger professional unit.

Main characteristics of the challenge, description of the target group

The pupils of our institution lack basic socialisation skills, which has already resulted in their lack of motivation for school and learning, and they have a typically negative attitude towards the school as an organisation. In our view, the school does not respond to all their needs. It only deals with the process of learning, usually already before it could complete the “acclimatisation process” and could integrate the pupils into school culture. (A response to this is provided by another programme, the so-called “freshmen week”. Essentially, it consists of the mutual needs assessment, as well as the mediation of the culture of the school as an organisation towards the coming pupils, indicating that they are also part of the organisation.)

In many cases, the pupils lack the experience that their opinion matters, thus we have to develop this experience in them. The questions asked by the professionals constitute a real needs assessment. We have to create this experience in the pupils and to teach it to them.

The pupils who can remain in our school (and thus who do not become school leavers) are those to whom we can reach out with this programme constituted by the community space. It is in this way that our institution may become a place of a positive school career. (Obviously, there are pupils to whom our institution is not the best option; in those cases, it is up to the professionals to orientate the clients towards the appropriate path after identifying their strengths and weaknesses.)

Our clients should enrol into secondary school at the age of 14 or 15, instead, it is not rare that they choose our institution at the age of 16 or 17, so not immediately after primary school. Already then, the presence of harmful out-of-school peer communities can be identified in several cases as an out-of-school factor and an underlying reason. Their devastating impact on motivation appears in school attitude as well. Besides the negative attitude towards the school, a further problem is constituted by the fact that deviance becomes part of the client’s life history in several cases, either upon pressure from a group or motivated by a sense of belonging to a group.

Our experience gained within the framework of individual case management of several years has shown that family-rooted material and emotional deficit, as well as the lack of coping strategies, are constantly recurring elements.

One of the declared objectives of establishing community space has been to reduce these emotional deficits. Also, we have been using the positive, spontaneously established client-assistant relationship in another programme, as well as in our intraschool work in general. The other programme (a thematic series of activities) was directed towards the development of social interactions, competence development and towards the diversification of coping strategies. All this was implemented with the help of public and civil society organisations, such as the New Generation Contact Point, the assisting professionals of the Family and Child Welfare Centre of Zugló, the Foundation for a Clean Future.

During the initial stage of the programme the main purpose was to reduce harm. This work involved cooperation among assisting professionals (special education teachers, psychologists, social workers). First of all, the professional objective was that the professionals of the three interrelated professions establish their operational framework. This included the case discussions held every week, but also more often, whenever it was necessary. The standardisation of the objectives and the related communication constituted an important element of this work.

The community space is open to all the pupils, therefore all the classes of our school can use it from the outset. Therefore, the age group concerned is mixed, from the 14- or 15-year-old 9th-grade pupils to the young adults holding a technician’s qualification.

With the existence of the community space, certain form teachers felt the need for integrating it among the positive confirmations, i.e. that the class could spend an hour in the community space as a reward after having completed a successful process with a class.

It is valuable that the community space constitutes a connecting point to the form teachers (and the pupils) for assistance work.

We often seek help from external professional partners for implementing our programmes. The continuous work with them allows us to cooperate and to realise constant professional development and to make new plans.

Success factors and processes

During the initial phase of the work, the director of our school established a working group in which he brought together the school psychologist, the special education teacher and the social worker in a TEAM. The professional orientation of the concept was indicated by the working group on public culture. Although this situation provided professional independence, by definition it was essentially meant to respond to the pupils’ free time needs.  However, unstructured free time and deviance are interrelated, this factor has provided the theoretical basis of the work. In the early stage of assistance work, besides the individual case managements, the thematic work with the groups played an important role.

In parallel, the “cellar club” was started with a tender-based programme, for which we acquired equipment: a foosball table, a snooker table and beanbag chairs so that our youth occupy the cellar room in their free time and to live part of their student life there. After two years of operation it did not become a central place, therefore the TEAM decided to open the community space at a more frequented, more easily accessible location, opposite the lavatories on an upper floor.

The community space was welcomed by our youth, in one school year, our equipment was fully used. With these equipments, we could provide the possibility to 25 to 40 pupils for decently spending their free time. Our work was supported by the majority of the school community, our school foundation and our director provided funds, the technical staff provided maintenance works, the teaching staff provided positive feedback and ensured the effective operation of the community space, whenever it was needed.

The community space is a supplementary activity in the school’s life. It provides help and opportunities to the pupils for spending their free time usefully. The change in perception takes place slowly because the community space does not affect the general operation of the organisation spectacularly. The involvement of teachers and professionals constitutes an important element of the work so that they can also become part of the positive atmosphere of the extra-curricular time spent with the pupils. Those experiences bring the students closer to the teachers and vice versa. By creating another dimension, they provide opportunities for settling the conflicts playfully. A communication situation is established in which an extra-curricular relationship of trust may be developed. Our colleagues working as teachers will have a personal experience with the process of assistance work, with its conflict-reducing role.

The community space must provide opportunities for monitoring the pupils throughout the school year(s) because if the professionals have not seen a pupil in the community space for days or weeks, according to the professional protocol, they turn to the form teacher or seek information discretely from the other students to find out whether they have any information about XY.

The professional TEAM designed the image, the opening hours and the operation of the community space based on the experience with the “cellar club” drawn after the first two years, using and enhancing the equipment of the “cellar club”.

As a result, the number of pupils hanging about in the building and smoking in the lavatories during the breaks, as well as the number of physical damages has been reduced. After seven years of operation no physical damage has been done in the community space, and we, as members of the support staff, had to react to behavioural problems only in one case (a large number of darts needles were broken into the darts),in all the other cases the spirit of the community space has been passed on indirectly from generation to generation.

It was necessary to create a communication structure which does not impose sanctions but indicates the limits of a conduct which may be tolerated. Besides, it does not impose any obligations on the students but provides opportunities for them, i.e. it works on a completely voluntary basis (as opposed to many other issues of the school).

The well-established professional TEAM was comprised of assisting professionals, therefore the common attitude included, besides the compulsory pedagogical elements, alternative team organising skills, social competence development if the form of teamwork, professional consultations for preparing and accompanying teamwork, as well as responses, within the framework of individual consultations, to the cases treated within the teamwork.

The harmony within the TEAM increased the efficiency of the work, since each member was aware of the other professionals’ strengths and to which extent they could count on each other.

The community space within the school, as a community room, may easily be established, it does not require any major financial investment. However, the funds provided by a grant gave a good basis for the programme.

However, the programme part which was meant to change perceptions is a long-term investment: on one hand, integrating the assisting professionals’ TEAM into organisational culture takes a long time. On the other hand, the establishment and the integration of an invisible operating order requires a lot of work so that any new member entering the community space can perceive and accept it. The community space as an organisation has to react to the pupils’ needs, to make decisions for the professional TEAM on whether a problem or need can be managed or not, and on the type of intervention on the part of professionals in case of managing it.

Impact of measures taken

The community space has been operating in its current form for five years in this room of the school in each long break (from 10.05 to 10.20 a.m. and from 12.55 to 13.15 ). The pupils have been used to this operating order, if we are unable to open it for some reason, the next time they enquire about the reasons or turn to the professionals on the social networking site. The integration of the community space into school culture can be seen as a primary change.

In our view, the acceptance of an indirect pedagogical work is much lower in an institution with pedagogical vocation, it takes time in each case for the professionals to make it accept that their work complements the school-based instruction and education work with another aspect. Promoting this constitutes a secondary effect of the space. Young people, who are regular “visitors” of the room, of its programmes, and indirectly of the assisting professionals’ work, seek help in problem situations much earlier than their peers who do not use the room, thus preventing more serious problems.

However, not only the students, but also the colleagues become beneficiaries of the space and the assisting work, through the conduct of the students, on one hand, and because using the space as a recompense expands the toolbox for motivating the students, on the other hand.

Space’s third major benefit is harm reduction itself. Students who use the community space during the breaks, get an opportunity to let out their tension accumulated during the lessons, on one hand, and find an inclusive peer community, on the other hand. Thirdly, they spend their free time in a meaningful way during the two long breaks (which take 35 minutes altogether),which they would otherwise spend less constructively. (In the period before opening the space, the rate of smoking and the related physical damages had increased in our school. On one hand, the programme has somewhat separated the smoking and non-smoking population of our school has given a meaningful goal to aimless young people who were loafing about, and has become an attractive and worthy alternative to smoking for young people otherwise smokers).

Lessons learned

As regards the development of the community space, the first element is the decision made by the management to employ assisting professionals working in a TEAM, and to support their work with a competent managerial attitude and presence, providing them professional autonomy.

Besides this, it is necessary to integrate the professionals and the programme into the teaching staff who have an insight into the operating rules and the goals of the community space and who respect those rules and goals in doing their work. Failing this, the school as an organisation pushes out everything that does not belong to it. So these are pre-requisites. There are no other risks in the programme, it can be introduced without any major risk.


Resources needed

In the initial stage of the programme the working group on public culture operating at that time applied for less than one million HUF (appr. 3000 EUR),half of which was dedicated to the establishment of the community space. It included everything from the design of the room to the equipment to be acquired (a foosball table, a snooker table, beanbag chairs). Later on, in a subsequent year, another foosball table was acquired from a donation by the school foundation, and other armchairs, suitable for seating, were also placed into the room, thanks to other donations.

Besides the existing professionals, the programme does not require major investment; easily accessible space of suitable dimensions need to be designated with its operating hours when its supervision can be ensured. This can also be aligned to the resources (specifically to the time, the energy, the enthusiasm of the professionals),so the programme is very flexible in this sense.

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Ybl Miklós Secondary Vocational School and Grammar School Specialised in Construction

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