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Union fears over futuristic schools

Will a new focus on community needs be backed by additional funding? Felicity Waters reports

Schools in Wales will be radically rebranded by 2010 in order to cater for children and the community before and after normal school hours.

At a conference of teachers and education professionals in Cardiff this week, organised by community learning charity ContinYou, the "school of the future" was heralded as a community learning resource that would reinforce teacher-pupil relationships, develop citizenship and even reduce crime.

Schools will not only deliver education but will also offer a broad range of other services for young people, their families and the local community.

These include breakfast and healthy-eating clubs, after-school activity clubs and adult-learning classes.

These proposals are similar to England's extended-schools scheme. But the Welsh Assembly has said that Welsh schools will be geared towards the wider community rather than merely providing out-of-hours childcare.

Assembly minister for education and lifelong learning, Jane Davidson, has allocated pound;250,000 to ContinYou next year so that it can work with schools and education authorities to develop programmes and fund training.

But teaching unions have grave concerns about the plans, which they fear will place extra burdens on teachers who will get no additional pay for working evenings and weekends.

Reacting to Ms Davidson's speech, Geraint Davies, of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers Cymru, said afterwards: "This money will go towards organising the activities but there is no extra funding for delivering them.

"Teachers are expected to use their goodwill to deliver even more services outside of their contracted hours, at a time when workloads are meant to be reduced. Unless we make a stand, there is a danger that what is now already done voluntarily will soon become accepted practice."

Glan Rees, a senior teacher at Glyn Derw high school in Ely, Cardiff, agrees.

She said: "It's always been expected that teachers give up their free time to do extra activities. Many do it willingly already.

"But people should not be put in a position where they feel they have to give up their weekends and not be paid. It wouldn't be expected in any other profession."

Many schools already provide out-of-hours learning for children across Wales, in the form of sports and drama activities, breakfast clubs with yoga, and mentoring schemes. But now supporters of the plan want families and the voluntary sector to be involved too.

Ms Davidson said: "Our commitment to community-focused schools is based on developing a close working relationship with the community. The school would become the place where learners' interests come first, and where the widest possible access and opportunity is provided for all and lifelong learning is a reality."

She said that out-of-hours learning should be an integral part of young people's education and should help to improve motivation and self-esteem.

"But schools cannot achieve this on their own," she said. "It has to be through a joined-up approach."

Sioned Bowen, chair of the Association of the Directors of Education in Wales, said education needed to be seen as a priority within communities.

But she added that it was essential to have enough money to achieve this vision of a wide and balanced education.

Out-of-hours learning programmes have already shown positive results in reaching pupils who are disengaged from formal education.

Peter Clarke, children's commissioner for Wales, said such programmes give children the chance to be active citizens, able to make their own choices.

He said: "Beneath the bravado there is much low expectation and we need to start listening to children and giving them the opportunity to fulfil their potential."

And universities and museums have proven that they can have a role in reaching disaffected pupils outside school hours.

The National Museum for Wales has been working on a project with teenagers in Barry. Working in the evenings and at weekends, the pupils have put together a photographic exhibition about their impressions of their community. Some went on to study GCSE history as a result of their experiences, according to Nia Williams from the National Museum.

"This project really showed how a museum can work with schools and community leaders to develop activities," she said.

"It helped to build their self-confidence and give them a boost, and showed them that education doesn't have to be formal."

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