They've got the lot

12th March 2004 at 00:00
As the Government prepares legislation to break down barriers between education, health, social and other support services, Wendy Wallace visits two schools where the future has already arrived

Walking through a purple-painted door at Hayward school in Bolton is like crossing into another world. The stained, battered concrete of a spectacularly run-down urban school building gives way to a heated, carpeted, colour-themed environment of offices and meeting rooms. In one of them, specialist nurse Alison Kelly is talking in private to a Year 11 student. "What is your aim?" she asks, concluding a discussion about a classroom incident in the morning. "Not to be so down and so ill," comes the answer. "To be myself, my true self."

Alison Kelly knows Jane (not her real name) well. She has visited the 15-year-old in hospital and at home, knows her sisters, her mother, her troubled history. Jane trusts Ms Kelly. "I can say anything to Alison," she says. "If I have a problem in school I can go and see her."

Ms Kelly, a trained mental health nurse, is a member of the school's behaviour education and support team (Best), based in a refurbished building where she is available to pupils as and when they need to see her.

Teachers here can also call on an on-site police officer, an Urdu and Punjabi-speaking community liaison worker and a range of other people with specialist skills in supporting children. This - if the Government's vision for children's services becomes reality - is the future.

Following the death in February 2000 of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie after months of appalling ill treatment by her great-aunt and her great-aunt's boyfriend, and the subsequent inquiry's uncovering of how many services had failed the child, the Government wants to see professionals who work with children pulling together, to better protect the most vulnerable.

The obvious focal point for such sharing is schools; children spend much of their time there, and teachers often know pupils better than anyone outside their families. "We want all schools to become extended schools," announced the Government in the Every Child Matters Green Paper, on which the new Children Bill is based.

The plan is that by 2006 every local education authority will have at least one full-service extended school, offering health and social care, family learning, sports, arts and ICT. More than 60 education authorities have already received some funding - between pound;95,000 and pound;162,000 - for pilot schools. But while the Government calls for revolution - a breaking down of the institutional barriers between education, health and social services in a new era of co-operation and sharing - schools are opting for evolution. Many have already been developing along full-service lines, in response to local need.

Hayward school is a case in point. The 11-16 comprehensive in the Great Lever area of Bolton is the town's pilot full-service school, and new headteacher Tim Oakes is in full accord with the Government's vision.

"Schools are at the centre of the community," he says. "If we can all work together to support people, we'll have much more of an impact. In the long term, it will transform society." Full-service school (a term borrowed from the United States) is the wrong appellation, Mr Oakes believes. "This should be the Great Lever community centre or resource centre, with all services - including the school - on one campus."

Hayward, which serves an area beset by crime, drugs, teenage pregnancy and unemployment, was already going along the extended school route, with a full-time police officer, the Best team, Connexions youth service and other initiatives on site. Other aspects of extension - revision classes for Year 11, outreach youth work to take place on the streets, courses in stopping smoking and drug awareness, and ICT classes for adults - are already under way, brought about by the joint efforts of the headteacher, the local authority's full-service co-ordinator Anne Gorton, and Colette Kelly, manager of the Great Lever neighbourhood renewal initiative.

But multi-agency working, as the jargon has it, does not happen overnight.

There are issues of funding, location and, crucially, of communication between the disciplines. "This is about professional trust across and between services and agencies," says Christine Davies, chief education officer at Telford and Wrekin LEAand a member of the national steering group for the Green Paper. "It does require a new way of working and a greater spirit of co-operation, collaboration and trust."

Mr Oakes, for instance, feared the repercussions in the local press of having an on-site police officer. For her part, PC Trish Shepherd was "appalled" when she heard she was to be posted in her former school. "I liked arresting people, getting involved," she says. "I didn't want to turn into a social worker." Eighteen months on, she enjoys the role, which involves sorting out fights, tracing missing children and keeping weapons and drugs out of school, and much else besides.

"Anything outside school involving my kids, I'll take on board as well," says PC Shepherd. "A lot of these kids have baggage, and a bobby who's not aware of that could take a hard line." The head has found that "parents have welcomed her presence and it really does contribute to the partnership".

Colette Kelly says she still feels like a guest in the school. The need is there, with pupils' mental distress evident in the form of attempted suicide, self-harm, eating disorders and low self-esteem. But, she says:

"I'm considered a bit of an inconvenience because I pull kids out of lessons." She says it will take time to develop a joint awareness. "If the schools aren't happy for us to change the culture, we're not going to make any difference."

Tariq Mahmood is community liaison officer at the mainly Asian school. "My job is representing the school to the community, and vice versa," he says.

"I need two listening ears." Mr Mahmood undertakes home visits and can arrange for messages to be transmitted through local mosques, helping deal with tensions between the Indian and Pakistani communities, and issues such as pupils' extended leave and drug use.

He feels sympathy for both the families' position and the school's, when they diverge. "Some teachers don't give kids the chance to defend themselves," he says. "But parents don't always respond to school the way they should. You just keep hammering on about what's going on in school."

Mr Mahmood, formerly president of the Bolton council of mosques, has been instrumental in getting local residents to raise funds for a Muslim community centre planned for the school site.

Extended schools, stresses the Government, are not meant to increase workloads for teachers, nor to distract schools from their core business of education. Rather the reverse: they should free teachers to teach, and underpin improved attainment. Sandy Reid, head of Year 10 at Hayward, says she is already feeling the benefit of having services on site rather than at the end of a phone line. "The communication improves dramatically," she says.

She cites an incident earlier in the day, when a troubled student had come to her in crisis just as she was due to teach. "I called Trish (PC Shepherd) and she went straight to find the boy. That potentially saved him from getting into serious difficulties. We don't have time for this kind of thing, but to have to say, 'Come back at break' is just not on. Year heads now have far better support in school that we can easily access."

Lynn Caldwell, head of Year 8, says: "We are now working with people who are very familiar with the community the school serves and have a real insight into the children's backgrounds. Few of the teachers live round here."

But while cultural shifts may be taking shape at Hayward, the poor state of the buildings hardly lends itself to the creation of a new focus for reinvigorated community life, or drawing in the full panoply of other professionals - even if there was any spare room. Bolton has a bid in for money from the Schools of the Future fund, which would see Hayward rebuilt as a full-service school. Until then, the school and its potential partners are held back by what the head politely calls "a physical environment which is less than fully conducive". While facilities are part of the story, extended schools are not primarily about architecture.

Lord Silkin, an 11-16 secondary school in Stirchley, in the new town of Telford close to the Welsh border, was built as an extended school back in the 1970s. The 800-pupil school shares a site with a primary, a special school, and a recreation centre and library used by pupils and local people. It has a lifelong learning centre, and a playgroup in a mobile building that also houses a youth worker.

If the Government's vision is of schools "at the heart of the community", Lord Silkin is already there. As parent governor Sue Price puts it: "When you think of Stirchley, you think Lord Silkin." In 2002, Ofsted inspectors found that: "Lord Silkin school has a high proportion of very good teaching, with exam result rising faster than nationally at key stage 3, and significantly higher GCSE results than previously."

Despite all this, headteacher Jane Woodall describes the school as "extending", rather than "extended". She says: "It's about identifying what is needed by your community to support the core service of your school."

Broadly, there are two ways of interpreting the notion of extended schools.

One is that the school should host a range of services, and invite the public to use the facilities and become more familiar with - and supportive of - the school. The other is that services specifically tailored to the needs of pupils should be available for them at the school.

Lord Silkin will not be Telford's designated full-service pilot school; that title will go to another school being built under the private finance initiative. But schools can extend themselves, if they have the vision.

"This is part of an organic process in this school, where we're looking at how we're going to move forward over the next five years," says Ms Woodall.

"You have to say, regardless of funding, we are going to prioritise these areas. You have to look at all the funding streams and try to make sure they contribute to the whole. Children need consistency, and what they fundamentally need is adults who they can relate to when they need to relate to them."

Accordingly, the leadership incentive grant money at Lord Silkin has been spent on the appointment of "student adviser" Jane Ward. A former learning support assistant and Connexions adviser, 54-year-old Ms Ward has a unique role with a group of around 30 struggling Year 10 and 11 students. She is available full-time for students to let off steam, come for tea and biscuits, get help with filling in applications to colleges, or to arrange work placements. She takes small groups out on trips, keeps in touch with parents, visits students on placements. "I always stress to them that I'm not a teacher," she says. "It's a different relationship, breaking down the barriers."

Her fluid and responsive role is greatly valued here. There have been no permanent exclusions from Lord Silkin since she began in April last year; there were four the previous year. Although there is a health centre next door to Lord Silkin, governors are planning a health drop-in to be held at the school once a week in the learning support base. Students do not necessarily want to sit in a waiting room where they are likely to be seen by neighbours; they may need specialist family planning or adolescent mental health services, and the school wants to give them what they need on site.

A review of the anti-bullying policy has led to the introduction of restorative justice, led by local PC and Silkin chair of governors Pete Jones. PC Jones also holds a two-hour surgery in school once a week, where students, staff and local residents can approach him with problems.

Time-consuming and difficult work has led to a reduction in feuds in school and in the community.

And Ms Woodall's advice to other extending schools? "You need to audit what is already there and consult with your community: primary feeders, parents and carers," she says. "Be prepared to put in work, consulting and genuinely listening and be prepared to be surprised. People don't always want what you think they need."

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