Where the gates stay open

In the past, what went on outside the school gates was not
considered by many education professionals to be any concern of
theirs. This made collaboration among schools and with health and
social services difficult. Today, attitudes are changing and
schools are taking a more child-centred philosophy. Schools are now
working together to share ideas, practice and expertise in order to
provide the best possible service for their students.

Although traditional attitudes persist in places, the rapidly
developing partnership ethos has made schools far more amenable to
working with outside organisations. Indeed, a recognition that the
school gates are no longer the boundaries of a school’s sphere of
influence is central to the government’s extended schools

While some extended schools are now providing a whole host of
on-site services for their communities, others are strengthening
links with a range of organisations to develop a more comprehensive
service for pupils and their families.

Norham Community Technology College in North Tyneside has embraced
the holistic approach to child and community development. Cathy
Gillespie, assistant head teacher (inclusion), explains why.

“As a school our core purpose is to educate our students,” she
says. “But we are all too aware that if every student is to reach
their potential, we can’t focus simply on educational matters as if
they are occurring in a goldfish bowl. We also have to look at
those outside factors influencing a child’s ability to perform and
progress, work with experts in a whole host of other fields and
support families as well as students.”

Situated in an area of social deprivation in North Shields, Norham
– a specialist technology college for 11 to 16 year olds – has
gradually evolved into an extended school. Although officially
designated a pathfinder school in the original Department for
Education and Skills project in 2003, it was Norham’s links with
its community that brought it to the government’s attention in the
first place. After two years, Norham is now heading towards full
service extended school status, increasing its range of services
and deepening the strength of its partnerships.

The Parents of Teenagers Group, set up by lead learning mentor
Jenny Barton, is an example of the sort of community service
available. Although support for parents with pre-school and infant
children has always been plentiful, members of the community felt
that similar provision for those with older children was lacking.
As a result, the group was set up in 2004 and for the last year and
a half a handful of parents, mainly mothers, have been meeting
weekly to discuss issues surrounding their youngsters. Most,
although not all, of these teenagers go to school at Norham.

The forum, which takes place at nearby St Peter’s Community Centre,
also allows parents, many of whom are isolated within the
community, to build up their own self-esteem, confidence and social
skills and in some cases even move into employment.

One single mother new to the area only began to mix with others
when she joined the group. Over time she became more confident and
started doing other courses at the community centre. Now she is
studying childminding and plans to open her own creche in the near

Another mother with four children aged between six and 19, had been
out of work for 10 years looking after her children and had just
got into a rut of not working or going out. After several months
with the group, she managed to find herself a part-time cleaning
A host of similar services have been set up. There’s a drug action
project where parents from wards with acute drugs problems can
benefit from confidential advice and support. A service level
agreement with Relate provides on-site general counselling services
for students. And there is a vocational training programme for year
11s identified as potential Neets (not in employment, education or

All have the same underlying rationale: to support children and
their families holistically, to help enrich lives and to raise

Extended school provision is managed by Gillespie, who chairs the
school’s pupil referral team. This group consists of pastoral
managers, Norham’s special educational needs co-ordinator and
vice-principal. It also involves individuals from outside the
school such as a Connexions adviser, a learning mentor, the Best
(behaviour and educational support team) manager and various other
professionals, as and when needed.

This group with its broad-ranging perspective co-ordinates the
extended school’s entire provision. It takes referrals, identifies
key workers and draws up intervention plans. Target-driven, the
group meets every six to eight weeks to review, analyse and, if
necessary, retarget provision.

Most of the referrals are taken up by the school’s family liaison
officer, Jane Blacklock, or the on-site social worker, Angela
Stevenson. Both work with individuals and their families at school,
but also visit their homes if necessary. Blacklock, a former
education welfare officer, and Stevenson have found that being
based at the school has significant advantages.

“Presenting myself as a member of the school offering support
rather than as a social worker following up a referral often means
the families in question are less guarded,” says Stevenson. “It
also means that I have regular direct contact with students and can
meet with them as often as is required.”

Funded by the local education authority through its behaviour
improvement project, Stevenson also acts as a point of contact for
other agencies. She can refer young people to the B4 mentoring
project, which deals with eight to 13 year olds, or if she has
specific concerns about a child she can refer them to social
services’ initial assessment service First Call. It can then pass
the case on to the appropriate team, such as police, child
protection or youth offending team.

Having qualified professionals such as Stevenson and Blacklock on
site also means that such matters are no longer solely in the hands
of teachers acting as pastoral managers, who would not have the
same breadth of knowledge and understanding, let alone the contacts
and the time, to do as effective a job.

The long-term aim is to develop a continuum of provision, in
conjunction with other agencies, to meet the needs of students and
their families while the child is at Norham. This way, when
students have left school they will already be in contact with
appropriate agencies.

The Neet pilot project about to be rolled out across North Tyneside
is an example of the way things might go. Here vocational training
was set up for potentially disaffected youngsters before they left
school, allowing Connexions, and the local Positive Activities for
Young People scheme, which led the initial training, to continue to
support these individuals post-16. If initial contact had been left
until after they had finished school, some would have been out of
the system completely.

Although successful working relationships between schools and
professionals from other fields must be underpinned by a shared
ethos and a mutual respect for and understanding of one another’s
experience and perspective, no two extended schools will be the

Cathy Gillespie explains: “What we have here is an evolving set of
services and collaborations, through which we aim to support our
community. Other communities will have different needs and as a
result different sorts of provision will be developed.”

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