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Longer hours make better schools

Headteachers who are committed to opening their doors to the community can reap many benefits. Karen Thornton reports

SCHOOLS which provide out-of-hours services for pupils and parents report higher standards, better behaviour and attendance and reduced teacher workload.

Research shows that schools with extended opening hours are also more involved with parents and the local community.

The evaluation, commissioned by the Government and the National Union of Teachers last year, is based on 160 schools and 78 education authorities and a review of existing research. Researchers, who conducted telephone interviews with staff at schools offering longer hours, discovered significant differences.

The extra services ranged from more study and leisure opportunities for pupils to early years and family centres, and community learning, advice and drop-in services for health, youth and social services.

But the schools warned that the successful development of these extra services was dependent on funding.

The research predates a change in the law to make it easier for governors to provide community services and facilities.

Ministers want at least one school in every English education authority to provide a full range of community services by 2006.

These so-called extended schools will provide childcare, health and social care, lifelong and family learning, parenting and study support, sports, arts and computer access. Schools in deprived areas will be the first to benefit from the three-year pound;52.5 million scheme.

John Bangs, the NUT's head of education, said: "This research recognises that schools are communities and not just curriculum delivery agents. But extending activities has got to be bottom-up, from the school itself, and not imposed."

Cash and the commitment of heads were key to the success of extended schools. Lack of cash, space and community interest inhibited developments.

Most schools were happy with the principle of extended opening hours but there were concerns about how far they could or should go.

See www.dfes.gov.ukresearch for a summary. The full report will be available at the end of April

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