Is the government’s enthusiasm for extended schools
mirrored by school heads and staff, asks Frances Rickford. And will
the idea work in practice?
Schools – especially primary schools – play a starring role in
the government’s plans for children’s services. The
Department for Education and Skills’ five-year strategy for
children and learners, published in July, promised at least one
full service extended school in every council by 2006, providing
children and parents with child care, health services, adult
learning and parent support on site. As well as this, the plan also
promises wraparound child care from 8am to 6pm and during school
holidays in many more primary schools – 1,000 by 2008.
The government is growing even more ambitious. Education
secretary Charles Clarke has now said that every primary school –
that’s nearly 20,000 in England alone – should offer all-day,
all-year child care. Primary schools are described in the five-year
strategy as “hubs of the community”, which over time will make a
“full offer” to their community. Later this year the government is
to publish a 10-year child care strategy, paving the way for
universal provision of children’s centres for children under
five, many of which will be located on the sites of local primary
But will they? Will heads and school governors be willing to
devote their time to setting up extended services when they are
already under pressure on, for example, attendance, SATs results,
special needs inclusion and curriculum reform? And if they
don’t want to is the government – or anyone else – in a
position to make them?
Probably not. Successive governments have been transferring
power and financial control from local education authorities to
individual schools for the past 15 years, so now, legally, it would
be difficult for government to instruct them to do anything.
But so far there seems to have been little effort even to
persuade them to change. As Chris Waterman, director of the
Confederation of Education Service Managers, has pointed out,
despite the key role schools hold in the government’s
Every Child Matters strategy, the document was not widely
distributed to schools and there was little targeted information
for school staff, governors or parents. The Children Bill
doesn’t mention schools at all and The Next Steps document
has few references to them. The government is set to rectify this
later in the autumn with another “route map” to children’s
service reform. But will this be enough to persuade schools to
According to a recent survey by the charity 4Children, change is
already under way in schools. All the 11,000 schools surveyed had
some sort of out-of-school learning or study support. Nearly half
have a breakfast club, a third have an after-school club and in 39
per cent, a play scheme has been run during the holidays. And
two-thirds say they are interested in becoming extended
Clarke is keen to emphasise that teachers are not expected to
run the extra activities as part of their day job. Instead, parents
will be expected to pay for the services they use, and external
providers from the voluntary or private sectors will run them.
Chris Davis is chair of the National Primary Headteachers
Association (NPHA) which represents about half of the heads of
English primaries. He says views on extended schools are mixed, and
is adamant that trying to impose them would be
“Everyone is aware that this is on the cards but most are not
particularly keen on getting involved. We’ve got so much to
do already, most heads would run a mile from taking this on.” Davis
suggests that the most effective way to change their minds would be
money. “Either extra money or some other extra benefit to the
school, or an enhancement to the salaries of heads or senior staff,
would be helpful.”
Clarke has not promised any new money, emphasising instead the
sources of financial help available to parents to pay for child
care for school-aged children. But Anne Longfield, director of
4Children, believes money will have to be found to help schools to
make the transition to 10-hour facilities, and the charity is
lobbying the government hard. She also wants the government to make
sure extended school services are sustainable. “It will be very sad
for schools if they get something set up and it starts to crumble
after a couple of years.”
But even without the promise of new public money the evidence
shows that attitudes in schools have started to shift in favour of
extended services, says Longfield.
“In the past, parents have had difficulty persuading schools to
allow them to rent parts of the school buildings for after-school
clubs or holiday schemes. Government was also reluctant to tell
schools it wanted them to be positive about this.
“Now we’ve seen all schools are providing some
after-school activities and one in three offer after-school child
care. The challenge is to make it an integral part of the school,
and not something tacked on.”
But many primary heads may, initially at least, want extended
services to be run at arm’s length. Chris Davis wants
reassurance that extending the hours children are in school will
not mean children, or staff, are overburdened. “In disadvantaged
areas, there have been extra services outside school hours for a
long time. If you feel your school can cope and it is worthwhile it
can be very positive for the children.
“But we do have concerns about heads’ workload, and
children’s welfare. It must be organised by people who are
not part of the school team and run by play workers offering a good
non-academic curriculum – and not tire the children out.
“Some parents will take up this offer for the wrong reasons.
Enabling them to work is a good reason, but getting the children
off their hands may not be.”
Nobody seems to openly disagree with the principle of integrated
services, and it is hard to argue that school premises should not
be used to benefit communities. But is it good for children to have
a 10-hour school day? Adrian Voce, director of London Play, says
the stakes are high.
“Leaving children at school for the duration of the working day
is about parents’ needs, not children’s. If it is to be
in children’s best interests too, children should get to do
what they choose to co. The service should be run by qualified play
workers who know how to give children freedom and opportunities and
let them take risks. There needs to be dedicated outdoor and indoor
space along the lines of a good adventure playground.
“This is children’s free time in which they need to let
off steam and do their own thing. If we don’t have that, if
we keep children at school because their parents need to work and
deny them their free time, we will sacrifice their childhoods.”
So it matters not only that schools develop extended school
provision, but that it is done for children’s benefit, not
just the government’s, or schools’, or
Confed’s Chris Waterman has proposed changes that could
help to ensure schools develop integrated children’s
services.1 These include a lead governor for children, a
written policy on the school’s links with the community, and
emphasis in school inspections on the school’s role in
delivering services to children.
4Children’s Anne Longfield agrees the government will have
to take a more forceful lead if schools are to become hubs of their
communities. But, she points out, parents’ expectations have
been raised, and they too can lobby their local school to offer
more. “We don’t know how long it will take to achieve these
changes, but we’ve come a long way already.”
1 Every School Matters?
Chris Waterman, available from
Case study – Millfields Community School, Hackney,
Because of the number of shootings that have taken place in the
neighbourhood, the Clapton area of north Hackney is often described
as Murder Mile. Millfields community school is in the heart of
Clapton, and when head teacher Anna Hassan arrived there 11 years
ago, it was facing serious problems.
Now with more than 600 pupils it is Hackney’s designated
full service extended school. It has been offering extended
services from long before the phrase was invented, and already
- A breakfast club.
- Adult keep-fit sessions.
- A play centre open from 8.30am to 6.30pm, six days a week and
during the holidays.
- Professionally run respite care sessions for children with
autism alongside family learning courses on autistic spectrum
- A community nursery and toy library.
- An adult learning suite with ongoing classes in English as a
second language, information technology, literacy and
- A Saturday school, the “Shine Academy”, which runs from 10am to
3pm and is attended by more than 100 pupils.
In the pipeline are a 23-place crèche, drop-in health
sessions, access to social workers, and enhanced sports
Hassan says: “Millfields became the school it is now because of
the needs of the whole school community – pupils, parents, carers,
staff and the wider community. The services have built up slowly.
Initially we wanted to offer parents choices to work or study, and
as a result of their increased confidence they began to tell us
what they wanted.”
Education is at the top of the agenda – the priority is to raise
pupils’ achievements. Hassan believes that means involving
the whole community. “It’s about establishing an ethos of
lifelong learning, and a love of learning for the whole community.
By improving schools, communities improve and by improving
communities, schools improve.”
Surprisingly, Millfields has no more space than the average
large urban primary school. Classrooms and other facilities are
used by different groups without any major problems, according to
Hassan. “We have a fantastic and very secure staff. Before people
come here they are told exactly what happens, and are expected to
buy into our school. In the staff handbook it says that if you are
using someone’s class you leave it the way you found it, and
they sign up to that. Sometimes we have minor problems and we deal
“It’s about being professional, and treating each other
with respect. Education is about children, and lifelong learning –
those are the really important things and we put them first. All
the things we do here have at their heart the question of how it
will make a difference to our pupils.”