Proposals for extended schools could unlock exciting opportunities
for disabled children and young people and their families.
However, the services will need to be carefully planned if they are
to meet the needs of more vulnerable and marginalised groups.
The idea of extended schools was originally mooted in 1999 when the
Social Exclusion Unit published a report called Schools Plus.
The aim was to identify the most cost effective ways of using
schools as a focus for other community services and reducing
educational failure, and tackle inequalities and exclusion,
particularly in deprived areas.
Six years later, the logic has evolved into the government’s
programme for extended schools, published as a prospectus this
summer. The emphasis on tackling social exclusion remains but
extended schools have now found a secondary purpose: providing
child care and helping parents back to work.
There is no doubt that disabled children could benefit greatly from
these aims. They are far more likely than their non-disabled peers
to leave schools without qualifications; what is more, disabled
children are often prevented from enjoying social and leisure
activities with other children, owing to inaccessible facilities, a
lack of support staff and difficulties with transport.
In addition, disabled children and their families often have to
contend with considerable economic disadvantage. It is estimated
that 55 per cent of families with a disabled child are living at or
on the margins of poverty. The lack of, or cost of, good child care
means that a high proportion of mothers with disabled children
cannot work, even on a part-time basis. Meanwhile, estimates
suggest that it costs on average three times as much to bring up a
disabled child as a non-disabled child.
Extended schools could solve many of these problems. The services
they provide could include extra learning support and additional
child care, as well as opportunities for disabled children to mix
with their non-disabled peers. This could offer exciting prospects
for older disabled children in particular. Where most 14-year-olds
might go back to a friend’s house after school or head off to
McDonalds, a disabled young person is more likely to be picked up
at the school gate and taken straight home. Even when there are
after-school activities on offer, there may be a problem getting
home because school buses do not operate later and a disabled child
is less likely to use public transport. If there were lots of
children staying on, however, extra transport would be a viable
In this respect, though, schools face a considerable challenge. How
can they make after-school activities enticing enough for all
children to make them truly inclusive? How do we avoid disabled
children finding themselves stuck in what is effectively a special
needs club? A great deal of thought will need to be given to such
issues to prevent the drive for inclusion resulting in a damaging
Extending services could also bring opportunities for the schools
themselves to put into practice key legislation around improving
access for disabled children. Staff could receive training in areas
such as disability equality, administering medication and risk
assessment. This would reflect recent disability discrimination
legislation and feed into the Every Child Matters agenda ensuring
key outcomes for all children.
All secondary schools will be expected to offer extended services
by 2010. At present, it is unclear about who will be running these
services, although it does say that it is not about teachers taking
on extra responsibilities. But where will the additional specialist
staff come from? And will other valuable services, such as youth
work, suffer as a result?
In reality, it seems likely that schools will work in clusters, so
extra services can be provided across the local education
authority. This could offer particular advantages for disabled
children. Those in special schools could take advantage of services
in nearby mainstream schools to mix with other children. And the
wider community could benefit from some of the fantastic resources
in special schools, such as hydrotherapy pools, physiotherapy
equipment and sign language classes.
The same principles of inclusion are echoed in children’s centres,
and extended schools will need to be firmly linked to the new
centres to ensure consistency and co-ordination. However, schools
are not covered by the Children Act 2004 and are not obliged to be
part of partnership arrangements, so incentives will be needed to
encourage them to make the extra effort. Early years services for
disabled children have improved radically in recent years and it is
vital this hard work is not lost as children get older.
Finally, the great promise of wraparound child care. Remarkably, it
is proposed that all secondary schools will be open from 8am until
6pm all year round. However, families will still have to pay for
child care. For those with disabled children, assistance is offered
in the form of working tax credits and child tax credits. Given the
financial challenges some families already face, it remains to be
seen whether the numbers will add up to make this a viable option.
In addition, extended schools could provide an ideal opportunity
for short-term breaks, for example during school holidays. But a
system based on the assumption of parents working could prove to be
prohibitive to many of those with the greatest need.
None of these problems is insurmountable, but a great deal of
thinking and planning needs to be done before we can be sure that
disabled children and young people will see the full benefits of
extended school services. To address this issue, the Council for
Disabled Children and community learning charity ContinYou are
working with the Department for Education and Skills to make sure
disabled children’s needs are taken into account in the planning
By their very nature, the most marginalised groups are the hardest
to engage in new initiatives. Ultimately, if extended schools are
to be truly inclusive, they need to be marketed in such a way that
they appeal to everyone. However, if schools can rise to the
challenge and find ways to offer services that are both attractive
and flexible for disabled children and families, they could make a
hugely positive impact.
Helen Wheatley has a background in social work,
and is the lead for the Council for Disabled Children’s project on
children’s trusts and extended schools.
Training and learning
The author has provided questions about this article to
guide discussion in teams. These can be viewed at www.communitycare.co.uk/prtl
and individuals’ learning from the discussion can be registered on
a free, password-protected training log held on the site. This is a
service from Community Care for all GSCC-registered
Extended schools could provide a vehicle for tackling
inequalities and helping parents back to work and disabled children
would benefit from inclusive leisure activities. However, questions
remain over how extended services will be staffed, and whether
other specialist services will lose out. The article argues that
extended school services need to be attractive and flexible enough
for all children.
Go to www.ncb.org.uk/cdc
Contact the author
At the Council for Disabled Children on 0207 843 6045