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New clusters add lustre

A new breed of support staff are helping time-strapped heads improve links with the community and prevent pupils going off the rails.

Rhondda Cynon Taf council claims its new "cluster workers" are stealing a march on developments in community focused schools (CFSs) in England - which has generally been seen as more advanced in this field.

Nicky Price, 30, a former community leader, is one of a 13-strong team of cluster workers appointed by the council in January.

They were were brought in to build on good practice already happening in the authority as schools open up to the community. In some areas, the aim is to prevent anti-social teenagers plaguing towns in the South Wales valleys.

Mike Keating, director of education for RCT, said: "In England there are extended schools, but in Wales it is so much more. We are reviving communities."

He claimed the appointment of cluster workers was working because of the co-operation and dedication of schools.

Each new cluster worker within the authority has been given an area to concentrate on, including parental support, extending adult learning and greater integration with health and social care.

Ms Price has been made responsible for schools in Tonypandy, Mountain Ash and Tonyrefail - areas worst affected by poverty and crime. Part of her remit is to offer anti-social children aged eight to 13 quick access to professional help inside the school gates.

Youth inclusion and support panels, with representatives from a variety of agencies, are to be set up in schools to help identify at-risk children for early intervention.

But Ms Price admits her greatest fear was being accepted by teaching staff, something she now says was unfounded.

"I can say that I know the pupils on my patch as well as the teachers," she said. "It's only by knowing them that I can decide which children need help."

The new cluster workers are made up of a mix of former teachers and community workers. They meet up monthly to share good practice.

Derek James, RCT's community focused schools co-ordinator, said much more had come out of the new appointments than had been first thought. "I don't think there is anything quite like this in Wales or over the border," he said.

The authority's new cluster model was showcased at last week's second annual conference of CFSs in Llandrindod Wells, organised by the charity ContinYou. It has been funded by the Assembly government's CFSs grant.

Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, told the conference that the arrival of CFSs should foster more "community spirit".

She said schools should become friendly for parents, while remaining safe for children. Last year advice from the Association of Directors of Education in Wales said every Welsh school should move towards offering out-of-hours activities.

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