Paddy O'Dea editor of 'Schools ETC magazine", produced by ContinYou
Schools are at the heart of a quiet revolution in Wales. They are working closely with local education authorities, and voluntary and statutory agencies, to improve the well-being of children and young people and their families.
All key players, under obligations set out in the Children Act (Wales) 2004, are getting stuck in, changing the very nature of Welsh schooling - including the school day. Local "children and young people's partnerships"
are gradually being completed.
These documents express how councils and schools intend to work in multi-agency partnerships that will underpin a more integrated, co-operative local approach to health, care and education services for children. Schools will become community-focused hubs of learning and care in their communities, keeping children and young people learning, happy and safe during and after school, and in the holidays as well.
How exactly to join this revolution, fit in with curriculum demands and fairly staff the changes has thrown some schools into a spin. But many have realised they can simply build on what they already do. There are no blueprints, but good tools help.
Bryngwyn school in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, uses a flexible framework called OwnZone, developed by ContinYou, a charity supporting community-focused schools. It has used the OwnZone approach to create a dynamic third session in its school day called the Bryngwyn Youth Zone (BYZ).
The BYZ has shortened Bryngwyn's school day by shortening the lunch hour, but has extended the provision to which pupils have access. The formal school day now ends at 2.45 pm and the BYZ begins at 3pm in the Chil* Zone.
This is a gentle landing pad of time spent milling about in the school canteen, eating healthy snacks and generally recharging themselves until pupils are ready to take off for activities that follow in two other zones.
The Chil* Zone is also where the BYZ co-ordinator ticks registers and directs students to their chosen activities.
In the LearnZone, pupils can choose from coursework clubs, sport coaching, an orchestra, and maths, media and Welsh language clubs.
In the Skil* Zone, pupils can let off steam in karate, play board games, or head for the School of Rock. And having an OwnZone like the BYZ also gives parents and carers peace of mind that their children are being cared for in a structured environment.
Shortening the lunch hour can cause difficulties, but OwnZone is done in consultation with pupils. It looks at the available time across the whole school day to find a good solution for both pupils and staff.
Paul Jones, Bryngwyn's deputy head, likes the results. A recent Estyn inspection report noted that the BYZ has engaged pupils who are at risk of exclusion and enabled them to settle in school better.
"Pupils have made OwnZone their own space where they do the fun part of learning," he says.
Youngsters are encouraged to choose at least one LearnZone and one Skil* Zone activity each week, but everything is voluntary. And the changing menu of learning and leisure activities, often provided in partnership with voluntary agencies, brings people into the school who would not normally be there and engages pupils more fully in school life. It can also help younger pupils moving from primary to secondary.
Paddy O'Dea is editor of 'Schools ETC magazine', produced by ContinYou. Its Welsh arm, ContinYou Cymru, supports community-focused schools across Wales. ContinYou Cymru's annual conference is on November 27 in Llandrindod Wells, www.continyou.org.uk