Good evening, pupils

2nd September 2005 at 01:00
All schools are expected to offer extended days within the next five years. But don't panic, says Martin Whittaker: other people will do the work

The announcement of a radically extended school day is old hat to headteachers such as Richard Parker. Beauchamp, a specialist technology college in Oadby, Leicestershire, is recognised as one of England's most advanced extended schools. It is usually open until late into the evening.

Even then, Mr Parker's pupils don't want to leave. But he believes media coverage has over-simplified the issue. Most people think, wrongly, that it is just about a longer school day. The reality is more complex, particularly when it comes to how schools organise and staff the new arrangements.

Breakfast and after-school clubs are just the tip of a very large iceberg, Mr Parker believes. "The whole of the nature of teachers' jobs and contractual obligations may well change," he says.

In June, Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State, launched the Department for Education's prospectus on extended schools with great fanfare. It may have seemed like a new idea, but some schools have been piloting ways of extending their services under the watchful eye of the department for the past three years.

As well as traditional after-school activities, such services can involve parenting support, community-based health and social care, and multi-agency behaviour support teams.

The Government has said it wants all schools to offer extended services by 2010. It says half of primary schools and a third of secondaries should comply by 2008.

At the same time, officials emphasise that teachers will not be forced to deliver the new services. Schools need to look at the expertise within their walls and locally to find the best people to deliver programmes.

Which can mean working effectively with other statutory services and with the voluntary, community and private sectors. But school staff, such as support and teaching assistants who have the relevant skills, may be ideal.

So how will schools deliver their out-of-hours services and how will the changes affect staff? The best schools to ask are those that feature in the DfES prospectus.

Beauchamp college has run extended services for the past 18 months. Its plans make the Government's vision of an extended school look conservative.

Its out-of-hours provision includes evening courses, volunteering opportunities and sports clubs. Teenagers from 14 onwards can enrol on such courses as first aid, street dance, and aromatherapy, while the school also offers adult education.

Mr Parker says Beauchamp is aiming to open from 7am to 10pm five days a week. "We're looking to open those hours because kids want to go home and then come back to work."

Many clubs and activities are staffed by people from outside. For example, basketball is run by an outside club using the school's facilities. But Mr Parker says the changes have opened up new opportunities and more flexible working arrangements for staff. The former head of PE now has a new title, director of community sport, and has a flexible working week which helps him cope with childcare arrangements at home. The school has also negotiated for an ICT teacher to spend part of his week training at a local company.

Mr Parker says the changes are removing traditional divisions for staff:

"If you have a surplus of staff, for example, in modern languages, rather than making teachers redundant, you organise situations where they teach in playgroups and primary schools."

"It's blurring those edges and making teachers deliver teaching and learning wherever it's needed. It isn't about forcing teachers - it's about liberating them."

Beauchamp is working with local primary schools that struggle to extend their days because they have less staff flexibility. Vice-principal Bob Mitchell, who co-ordinates Beauchamp's extended services, says: "For some schools it will be alien to open past 6pm." He believes there must be reciprocal gains for staff as well as pupils. "If you're going to request something from staff you have to offer them something in return. If you're going to ask them to run lots of twilight courses, pay them or compensate them with time off in the day."

Another school highlighted in the DfES prospectus is Highfield primary in Plymouth, which began experimenting with extended schools five years ago when it started fostering partnerships with parents. It has converted two empty classrooms into a community room where parents do ICT and art with their children. It also runs a breakfast club where children practise reading. Two evenings a week there's a homework club.

Head Paddy Marsh is pleased his school is up to speed on a government initiative: "It makes a change, but I would imagine the announcement for some schools will be quite frightening."

His teachers are not involved in the extended services - these are provided mostly by teaching assistants who can earn extra money. He worries how other schools will afford the changes. Nationally, extra government cash for extended schools equates to around pound;90 per pupil over the next three years.

Highfield can afford it because it is in a deprived inner-city area and is able to access outside funding. It doesn't spend a penny of its budget on the extended day.

"We have managed to use Excellence in Cities money because we're in that group, but we also have external sources of money," he says. "But if every school in the country started applying for grants, there's only so much that can go around."

Extended schools prospectus

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