The first two years of extended schools reveal tensions between the needs of communities and the perennial focus on school standards, reports Simeon Brody
The early experience of extended schools has been broadly positive for parents and pupils but the social care benefits remain unclear.
A Department for Education and Skills study of the first two years of full-service extended schools, the scheme’s early adopters, found evidence of improved student performance and increased intake numbers.
However, while extended schools focus on providing childcare, the report could not find evidence of them transforming whole communities and said there was work to do in engaging the most vulnerable.
It also found tensions between aspirations for long-term community building and the more pressing demands of school league tables.
Other schools will build on the experience of the 100-plus full-service schools, with the government planning to offer extended school services to every child in the country by 2010.
Part of the thinking behind extended schools is that parents and children are a captive audience and are more likely to be engaged if different services, including social care, can be offered in one building.
Martin Rogers, co-ordinator of the Children’s Services Network, which represents councils, says it is too early to expect any real community-building results. Local authorities are still at an early stage of integrating their children’s services teams, so co-location of services within extended schools is not going to happen overnight.
And he says it is easier for schools to provide childcare than organise access to social care services. He admits there has been a tension between raising standards and the broader Every Child Matters agenda, with some educationalists seeing community building as a distraction.
However, he adds: “Kids who are not happy, healthy, or well-fed are never going to be high attainers.”
Extended schools consultant Peter Hall Jones says most urban schools are embracing the regeneration agenda.
But many suburban or rural schools do not see it as relevant and are focusing more on services that will make parents’ lives more convenient, meaning, he says, “the extended schools agenda has become about childcare”.
And there are other issues still to be resolved if extended schools are to produce social care benefits. Without some form of outreach they are unlikely to deliver much benefit to the 30,000 children who regularly truant. And parents who themselves had a negative experience of school are unlikely to want to engage with extended provision.
There must also be a stronger social worker input, according to the British Association of Social Workers’ Nushra Mapstone.
“As social workers they need to be where children are. We would like to see a social worker in every school.” But she suggests that because of the scarcity of social workers, councils are not prepared to take a risk by putting a social worker in a school.
“I’m not hearing enough from our members to say social workers are actually working in these schools and that’s quite worrying. It’s still very much an education model rather than a shared one.”
WHAT IS AN EXTENDED SCHOOL?
All schools will be expected to offer, individually or in partnership, a range of “core services” by 2010. These are:
● Referral to specialist support, such as speech therapy, child and adolescent mental health and behaviour support.
● Parenting support.
● Wraparound childcare all year round.
● A “menu” of activities including homework clubs.
● Wider community access to computers, sports and art facilities.