The government’s five-year education plan, backed up by
the recent spending review, places the ambitious model for extended
schools firmly within children’s services policy space for
the first time.
What began largely as an education intervention is now
transforming into a radical community development, capable of
contributing to the reform agenda embodied in the Children
Extended schools have long been a “big idea”, but have
stubbornly remained at the conceptual stage for too long. But last
week’s announcements confirm a new assured certainty about
the programme itself. Government has signed up to an agenda which
will transform the traditional school day, with the goal of all
primary schools opening 8am-6pm. These plans move the extended
schools concept from an ad hoc set of localised activities into the
spotlight of the national policy stage. But significant details of
the planning and delivery still need to be sorted out.
And it is in the detail that the biggest opportunities and
challenges exist. By focusing on primary schools, the new agenda
opens up the possibility of developing a national network of
integrated centres in and around schools. These centres could bring
together child care, health services and support for parents –
building on children’s centres for under fives – to create a
joined up, local community resource, visible and available to all
families. Achieving this will require a significant cultural shift
which could prove a major barrier. Schools will need to be
encouraged to foster new partnerships, learn new entrepreneurial
skills, develop broader management capacity, and adopt a new
language and approach of the community sector.
The shining examples of best practice show it can be done – but
national roll-out will not happen by accident. The
government’s commitment to the strategy must be backed up
with a robust and far-reaching transition and support plan – with
significant investment in strategic support, problem solving and
local brokering. Nothing less will deliver the scale of change
needed, and the prize of a radical new deal for children and
families offers a terrific incentive.
Anne Longfield is director of 4 Children.