Different class

It’s ten past nine and parents and children are waiting in
the playground outside Low Hall Nursery School in Waltham Forest,
north east London. Children are peering excitedly through the
window or climbing on the playground equipment. A few of the
youngest are clutching their mothers, anxious about the impending
separation. But this morning many of the mothers won’t be
leaving, because they are attending an ICT (information and
communications technology) class in the nursery.
The ICT class is one of a range of “extended school”
activities provided by the nursery school, including a behaviour
management group, outreach work with pre-nursery children, a weekly
speech and language clinic and a holiday play scheme. Claire
Toberman, Low Hall’s head teacher, has successfully attracted
cash from the local Sure Start programme as well as  education and
health to fund the initiatives.
Toberman says: “As early years professionals we’ve a
long tradition of working with the family. We’ve always
recognised that parents are children’s first educators. The
children are only here for a few hours a day and we hope what we do
at nursery will be reinforced at home.”
Providing services for parents within the nursery is an important
aspect of the approach because parents feel comfortable about going
there. For example, parents getting one-to-support with parenting
issues might not take up the service if it was provided elsewhere.
Toberman says: “They are happy to come here. I put it as part
of the bid that parents feel confident that we will be discreet and
that their children will be looked after at the same
A high proportion of children come from families where no one is in
work or where English is a second language, or not spoken at all.
Many parents who have participated in previous ICT groups have gone
on to further training. Toberman says: “It’s the first
step. Parents gain confidence and go on to other courses in the
Despite the difficulties of teacher recruitment and the demands of
the national curriculum, a growing number of schools are aiming to
provide opportunities outside the curriculum. These range from the
traditional music and sport to breakfast clubs and from
after-school care, literacy and ICT classes for parents to health
services. It’s a trend the government is keen to
Cathy Ashton, minister for Sure Start, early years and child care,
says she wants the school infrastructure to be used more
collaboratively to support learning opportunities for the whole
community, as well as children at school. “We know that if
adult learning is provided at school it will attract some people
who find going into educational facilities quite difficult. We also
know that parents who get involved in adult learning are more
likely to support their children’s learning at home. My
interest is in using schools to support the whole
Ashton says the government is looking to see how it can best
support schools in offering extended services. “Schools in
challenging circumstances have been developing them because they
see them as  supporting their children effectively. Lots of schools
have been doing it for a long time.”
Chester-le-Street in Durham has been acting as an extended schools
demonstration project for the Department for Education and Skills
(DfES) since the beginning of 2002. Durham is also one of 25
councils invited by the DfES to be a pathfinder in developing
extended schools and is taking part in a Local Government
Association project to share experiences and spread good practice
in developing schools’ role in their local communities. 

The two primary schools and secondary school participating in the
Chester-le-Street project serve a neighbourhood characterised by
high deprivation, intergenerational underachievement and poverty of
aspiration. Frank Firth, special projects and strategy officer at
Durham County Council, explains: “There’s no premium on
education here. You could always go down the pits. Now the pits
have gone but the attitudes still persist.”
The secondary school is open seven days a week and has an online
centre, and one of the primaries has a children’s centre to
which children in need are referred. There’s also a breakfast
club for older primary-aged children who are on free school meals,
many of whom arrive at school without having eaten.
The project is supported by a partnership of local agencies,
including the schools themselves, health, social services,
voluntary sector, the education authority, the youth offending
service and leisure and cultural services. Firth says that part of
the challenge is getting people to see how their priorities support
each other – it took some persuading to get the breakfast club off
the ground.
Working with the local community is another challenge, particularly
where there’s a mismatch between what local people want and
central and local government priorities. Child care is a case in
point. Firth says: “The Sure Start audit found a lack of
child care but paradoxically it never scores highly with parents.
It’s to do with poverty of aspiration – people don’t
see how child care could enable them to access education and work.
And some people really do want to stay at home with their kids.
They don’t want them being looked after by strangers.”
He adds: “Even people with negative attitudes to education
want the best for their children. That’s what we have to
focus on to take people forward. It’s a project that might
take 20 years to be realised.”
Sefton Borough Council, Merseyside, is also taking part in the DfES
and LGA projects. Our Lady, Star of the Sea Primary School in
Bootle is one of nine participating schools. Located in an area of
high deprivation, the school has encouraged parents to participate
in school life, for example by inviting them into school to share
books with children and help in the classroom. The school also runs
“parents as educators” courses which focus on
parents’ own literacy and numeracy needs as well as how they
can support their children’s learning. The school has well
above average achievement in Sats examinations and has been awarded
beacon status.
John Rosier, head of primary and family learning at Sefton Borough
Council, explains: “The school’s success is down to
partnership with parents. Many parents were not best-served by
their own educational experiences. We try to develop their
confidence and self-esteem and to see their own central role in
their children’s education.”
As well as family learning the Sefton programme embraces ICT, and
aims to draw in child care provision. It is supported by the
nascent local strategic partnership and draws on the views of a
community reference group.
All of this takes time and money. There is a plethora of funding
streams for schools to draw from, but for many schools the issue is
whether they have the capacity to apply for funds as well as manage
the extra provision. Some schools are able to do this where they
can attract money from initiatives like Excellence in Cities to
appoint learning mentors or free-up the time of other staff members
to co-ordinate extended schools initiatives. However, research
carried out into three short pilot schemes at the beginning of 2002
found that involvement in extended activities can distract heads
and teachers from their “core business”.
Local education authorities acting as pathfinders will get an extra
£200,000. However, the minister is not able to say whether
additional money will be available nationally to support extended
schools. But she emphasises that the government is keen to support
what is going on. She says: “This is not about giving people
extra work. These initiatives are born of schools as part of the
community. Good schools have always been extended schools.”

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