Extension with best intentions

25th February 2005 at 00:00
One London head tackled the problems facing her pupils by joining up with the community. Phil Revell reports

Name: Eltham Green college

School type:11-16 sports college, 950 on roll

Proportion of students with special needs: 45 per cent

Proportion of students eligible for free school meals: approximately 40 per cent

Improved results: from 13 per cent achieving five or more grades A* to C at GCSE in 1999, to 35 per cent last summer

What is an extended school? Does it simply mean a few extra outside activities, or does the transformation need to go deeper?

Head Anne Barton argues that the extended schools approach is not about breakfast clubs or sports provision, but about core values, the ethos of a school.

"When I came here the school was in challenging circumstances. I believed we could only move forward if we addressed the issues challenging our youngsters," she says.

Ms Barton is head of Eltham Green college in Greenwich, south-east London.

The Department for Education and Skills made Eltham an extended schools pathfinder 18 months ago, allowing it to offer a wide range of community provision. But the decision to focus on the community was taken four years before that, in September 1999.

"It was part of Anne's approach right from the start," says Chris Deane, Eltham's chair of governors. He is a relatively new appointment, but he knows the school well; until two years ago Mr Deane was head of the Sir John Roan school in Greenwich. He says Eltham Green faced multiple challenges in 1999, from falling rolls to poor results.

"Results have dramatically improved," he says, "and we are now oversubscribed. The school now has a diversity that reflects the community it serves."

The school is open seven days a week, almost all year round. There is a community police officer on site, as well as a social worker and nurse.

Music, speech and language therapies provided by Greenwich's primary care trust are offered from the school. Eltham Green is a sports college and some kind of sports activity is taking place from dawn to dusk and beyond, using the floodlit pitches.

Each week the community support staff, including the school's attendance manager and learning mentors, meet the head of the local community centre and discuss students who concern them. The aim is to build a picture of the problems Eltham's children face - in and out of school.

"We need to break down the divide between what happens in lessons with teachers and what happens in the community," says Anne Barton.

The Middlebank community centre was a key player in the school's transformation. Centre manager Lyn Corbell was one of the first people to be approached when Anne Barton began the project in 1999. Lyn Corbell works closely with Michelle Moore, Eltham Green's community development manager, who co-ordinates the extended school and sports college provision.

Most of the DfES pathfinder schools will have a similar role, but Michelle was appointed three years ago, more than a year before Eltham was awarded pathfinder status.

"I'm a member of the senior management team," she says. "I take lessons and assemblies - I'm seen as a teacher by the students, but I'm not on the teaching staff. This isn't about teachers taking on extra responsibilities; it's about bringing services into the school."

When Eltham's families are referred to a health agency, there are people to help with transport and childcare. The school's police officer and social worker are well- known on site, making it easier for students to approach them. Both are doing more preventative work as a result.

"They make joint home visits to children whose attendance is a concern - that has had a big impact," says Ms Barton.

Much of this structure was in place before the school was given its pathfinder funding. Some sports college money was used, reflecting the community focus that all specialist schools are supposed to demonstrate.

Many of the posts are funded by the partner agencies: Eltham simply offers space and support.

Anne Barton advises other schools starting down the extended schools route to be both flexible and open-minded.

"You can't impose your view of what you want to happen," she says. "Much of the success will depend on the people who come into school from the other agencies. They need to be flexible, too.

"And you have to delegate: you have to realise that this needs skills and qualities and experience that you may not have acquired in your teaching career."

The benefits come in many forms. Children arrive at school ready to learn because their wider needs are being met; problems in school are more swiftly resolved because partner agencies are readily available. Parents who might otherwise resent the school's agenda are more willing to work with teachers.

"When we work with parents on family issues it means they are more inclined to be engaged with the school," says Ms Barton.

And what of the bottom line? Can a school be successful both in terms of its community provision and its league table performance? Anne Barton is reluctant to make unfounded claims, but Eltham's experience suggests that joined-up services do have an impact in academic performance.

"It has had a key role in our improved results, but it's difficult to say exactly how important," she says.

"You can't disaggregate the extended school from the parallel improvements in discipline and in teaching quality."

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