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4th February 2005 at 00:00
They used to be called schools. Now they are places where not only children learn, but their parents, too. They provide healthcare, police, nurseries, social welfare and more. All on the same site. Hilary Wilce reports

Many heads claim their schools are like Piccadilly Circus. In Millfields community's case, it is true. Sit in the foyer of this Hackney primary for even 15 minutes and the whole world seems to pass by, as people of every age, colour and creed come and go, all clearly at home in the school, and there for many different purposes.

Over the past 11 years, Anna Hassan, the head, has turned two failing east London schools into a shining beacon of what a full-service school can look like. Now she addresses national conferences, and meets ministers to help shape how other schools can follow suit. Last autumn, Tony Blair visited Millfields and was, by all accounts, impressed.

And it's easy to see why. The school has made the most of every inch of its Victorian buildings - including some imaginatively modernised classrooms - and is open from 6.30am to 8.30pm, as well as on Saturdays. It offers childcare, adult learning, study support , nursery facilities - in fact, to list everything it does would take pages. There's a toy library, a parent-run nursery , on-site health workers and links with the police and the local FE college.

Funding comes from the Government's extended schools programme and other funding streams, as well as from fees charged for the creche and sports facilities and profits made from the kitchen. Programmes are co-ordinated by Kim Price, a former secondary school head of department, who now manages the extended school provision.

"The great thing about Anna is she just says 'Yes, let's do it'," says Ms Price.

"You have to have good managers, and then you have to trust them," says Anna Hassan.

She researched the idea by walking into the playground, talking to parents and exploring their needs and wants. As the school developed, good staff came and stayed, and standards climbed steadily. "I was very clear what I wanted, so everything just fell into place. But this isn't something that can be imposed from the top. You have to talk to people, assess things, know your school very well. It needs a lot of careful work. Parents here have a lot of issues. We want to offer a one-stop service. I bid for everything going."

The result is visibly-confident children who enjoy school and seem excited about learning, and parents whose own confidence and aspirations are being nurtured.

But even in a success story like this, there are constant challenges. It can be a struggle to liaise productively with health and social service workers, and the expectations of parents and children are always rising.

"Sometimes I have to be belligerent," says Ms Hassan. "And I don't sleep at night."

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