We take troubled children - do you?

7th November 2003 at 00:00
The recent Green Paper, Every Child Matters, was produced as a response to the Victoria Climbie inquiry and proposes a range of measures to reform and improve children's care. Its laudable aim is to "reduce the numbers of children who experience educational failure, engage in offending or anti-social behaviour, suffer from ill-health, or become teenage parents".

One of its proposals is to develop a new breed of "full service extended" (FSE) schools, that will stay open beyond normal hours and offer a range of support services for children and families. It promises at least one of these in each local education authority by 2006. My school has been designated as the extended school in our authority.

But the idea is not really new. In fact my own school was built and designed as a community school in 1976. Social Services had offices here and there was a day centre and nursery on the site along with several other services. Today, only the nursery survives. We need to ensure that the latest initiative does not go the same way - there must be a long-term commitment to fund it.

Ours is an inclusive school that welcomes all pupils from our local community. Admissions are open and no child is turned away if we have space. In order to meet pupils' needs, we have a range of adults who provide extra support both inside and outside the classroom. We have been able to fund these services from a variety of sources and create a real "extended" school.

My school has been allocated pound;120,000 to run the extended services this year. Whilst this looks generous, it does not take into consideration the fact that we lost more than pound;350,000 in April through changes in the distribution of standards fund grants, previously used to fund many of these services. The excitement of being named as FSE school for our area faded somewhat when we realised we were expected to not only maintain our current services but to expand them, all with far less money than we had before.

I have yet to understand how extended schools fit in with current educational thinking. Whose agenda was it to create them anyway? The department for education, health or social services? The Government also seems unclear how its proposals are to be implemented.

The policy of creating more specialist schools, faith schools and city academies - which in many cases actively promote selection - also seems to run counter to the inclusive ethos behind extended schools. A system that selects and segregates cannot serve the whole local community. Many schools, given the option, will not take a troubled child. They will not select the one who has no family support, who needs a huge amount of in-school help and who is not going to achieve good results. These are the pupils who are passed from pillar to post and from school to school. Choice is not an option for them.

The Green Paper is essential reading for everyone involved in supporting young people and their families. The vision is there, but its joined-up thinking needs to be further developed. Ministers urgently need to re-examine their polices on secondary education and understand the social barriers that they perpetuate. If we really want inclusion we have to be open and honest and do whatever is necessary to support the most disadvantaged people in our communities.

Kenny Frederick is headteacher of George Green's comprehensive school in Tower Hamlets, east London

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