Extended schooling has clear attractions for its audience. By 2010, all schools will be open from 8am until at least 6pm year-round, offering services - including sporting, social and health - to the whole community.
But the implications for school leaders is enormous. It is hard to blame those who want to bury their heads in the sand and hope the issue will simply disappear. But that way lies disaster, argues Sue Kirkham, president of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), which held a conference on it yesterday.
"Unless they start thinking about this now, they will run out of time to plan. And planning is vital to make your extended school work," she says.
The murkiness surrounding the topic - from how to manage funding for the extra facilities to how to get the cleaners to come in over the holidays - does not help. Department for Education and Skills experts may well have a crystal-clear vision of how the new children's trusts, extended schooling and Every Child Matters dovetail. But school leaders are struggling, says Ms Kirkham.
"People are positive about the concept, and most of us have some extended schooling already," she says. "But at the moment it is impossible to find out about things such as getting a new sports hall built, or the different funding streams, from one place."
Even more at risk than reluctant heads, she believes, are those who rush enthusiastically into ambitious plans.
"We want to protect our members from financial or contractual pitfalls,"
Ms Kirkham, herself the head of Walton high school in Stafford, which has 1,400 pupils aged 11 to 18, says her school has no sports hall. The small hall it does have is in huge demand for school and community activities.
There is a swimming pool, but it is old and not fit for intensive use.
"If we had a big new sports hall we could fill it every evening. But it is not clear how we could finance the building work. There is a huge need for investment."
Education authorities do have money for extended schools, but not enough both to improve facilities and meet pay bills for providing activities at all schools.
There is a real irony, she says, in the fact that many schools which signed private-finance initiative contracts before the extended school policy was announced often have brilliant facilities but contractual limitations, such as having to close at 5pm, which will make it hard to meet extended targets.
One success story is South Hunsley school, in Yorkshire's East Riding. It looks like a copybook "how-to-do-it" guide for extended services, with breakfast clubs, and drop-in sessions for parents, children and adolescents. It has trainee social and health workers on site, and has just opened its own sports facility.
Talking to head Chris Abbott, it becomes evident that good extended schooling depends on the energy and commitment of its leader. Ms Abbott, though, prefers to emphasise the importance of teamwork with other heads in the area and other agencies, such as health and social services.
The school raised funds for its sports complex from sources including the LEA, the Football Foundation and a series of concerts over three years. It now offers adult fitness classes as well as school swimming lessons - even children's parties - and stays open during the holidays.
The school kitchen provides three meals a day to cater for sports centre clients as well as pupils, and profits are ploughed back into the school.
"At one time catering lost pound;25,000 a year. We see this as a way of offering our kids a quality service," she says.
While income from the external facilities cross-subsidise the school, its own funds are safeguarded. Likewise, the extra staff who have had to be taken on, such as lifeguards, a training manager and a sports centre manager, are paid for out of the income generated by their activities unless they are doing school-related work.
It gives Ms Abbott greater staffing flexibility and a wider pool of expertise she can call on for her school. Pupils doing post-16 non-accredited school work can learn, say, sports leadership from someone who is on site anyway.
One concern is how to draw the borders of responsibility. For example, who employs the sports staff, and who disciplines them? To whom are health or social workers, not employed by the school but operating on its premises, answerable?
Ms Kirkham warns that the head or deputy is responsible for the school itself. But if the council is running sports activities out of hours, there should be a contract stating who is responsible.
Ms Abbott has appointed her own "director of extended services", but when she is at school she is in charge. "If people are on my site, they are subject to my code of conduct and disciplinary procedures. If there was a complaint I would handle it."
She does not teach herself but argues she is still highly visible.
"I do a walkabout every day. I'm also lucky to have a strong leadership team," she says.
Ms Abbott concedes that her job may sound daunting. "Working as a partnership is key. Second, find ways of generating income from your activities, and third, find flexibility through working with associate staff."
Howard Gilbert, head of St Ivo school, a Cambridgeshire comprehensive, agrees that, if set up well, an extended school is a better place to teach.
St Ivo's, like others in the area, has long offered adult education. But it was also selected, with its feeder schools, as a Pathfinder trust to pilot the kind of health, social services and educational partnership foreseen by the Government's children's trusts programme.
"Kids see adults they know learning on site. We can 'piggy-back' their parents' learning on to theirs. And because we get to know the whole family, we are aware if a sibling has problems before they start here," Mr Gilbert says.
The multi-agency approach, set up under the Pathfinder trust, has helped to foster a sense of partnership among local schools.
"Heads had been meeting for some time and finding that it was getting harder to cope with the kids. So the thing had already started to develop from the bottom up," says Simon Crisp, assistant head at St. Ivo's. But here, too, finance is an issue. The school's period as a Pathfinder trust has ended now - and with it pound;80,000 a year in funding. Mr Crisp says questions remain over how much agencies, such as health and social services, will contribute to keeping services in place. "Sustainability of the project depends on getting funding right."
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