Melanie Webb* was at breaking point. Her five-year-old son’s behaviour was out of control and his attendance at school poor. “Getting him to school was an absolute nightmare,” says Melanie. “He’d throw things, kick and hit me, call me a bitch and a bastard.”
But after the involvement of a family support worker, funded by the Great Yarmouth Education Action Zone, things have changed dramatically. “Now getting him ready in the morning and taking him to school, he’s no hassle. It got to the stage where if social services came to take him away, I’d let them. I wouldn’t now.”
This is one of many success stories to emerge from Great Yarmouth’s full-service extended school system. Based on a cluster of schools, the system offers holistic, multi-agency support to pupils and their families, with the focus on preventive action.
Great Yarmouth is the fifth most deprived district and worst-performing education area in England. The full-service school was first championed by Carol McAlpine, the new director of Great Yarmouth EAZ, the country’s largest. About the same time, Dave Brunton was appointed head teacher at Great Yarmouth High School. “In my interview I banged on about immersing the school in the community,” he says. “I knew that our pastoral system was scratching the surface. We had 15 permanent and 180 fixed-term exclusions each year.”
Julie Fortescue, head of the school’s support faculty, came from the NSPCC and brought other partners. A social worker is attached and a health authority-funded team provides a confidential service twice a week. The school also works with about 20 parents a week. “This all allows teachers to focus on teaching,” says Brunton.
And the outcomes appear convincing. “Children leaving school with five A-C grades have gone up three years in a row, from 27 to 39 to 45 per cent. Our permanent exclusions are down to one or two a year, and our fixed-term exclusions down to 90. But I want that halved again.”
The support faculty has four levels, says Fortescue. “Level one is drop-in, two is the core group we work with, three is one-to-one counselling, and four is child protection. The idea is that kids can go up and down those levels. They can always be supported because they can all access level one. At the moment we are working with a third of the school [around 300].”
Children in need are also targeted. In the summer the school will work with about 25 young people who are likely to be caught up in offending. Andy Goff, assessment service manager at Norfolk social services, says: “In the past those 25 would have come to me. Now, I don’t see them. This means that my social workers can concentrate on the high-need child protection stuff.”
A teacher, who acts as in-school co-ordinator, carries out the initial assessment with Louise Penn, full-service school team leader, and take this to the combined assessment team. The team includes Goff, health, speech and language therapist, child and adolescent mental health services, family support, youth service, local voluntary family support schemes and others as required. Each case is then reviewed monthly or termly. “One of the main benefits has been everyone understanding what everyone else is doing,” says Penn.
David Evans, project consultant at Great Yarmouth EAZ, says educational attainment remains at the core: “Lower educational attainment results in a shorter life and poorer health. If we can raise standards in schools we can get more people skilled and into work; then we will make a major contribution to social and economic regeneration of the area.”
* Not her real name.
- It’s important that schools have access to child protection advice. Goff provides consultation to all head teachers in the EAZ. He also provides monthly supervision for Penn on child protection matters.
- In the past there would be about three child protection cases a year at Great Yarmouth High School. It’s now 108 a year – 98 per cent of which is self-disclosure. “This is because kids know there are people they can trust and rely on,” says Brunton.
- Cluster schools have the same in-service training days – so everyone hears the same training messages about child protection, for example.