All together now
Greenford High School in London is arguably the first school to have on its leadership team a head of social inclusion, supported by a mix of non-teaching professionals. Simon Heath-Harvey looks at the impact.
Long before the Every Child Matters agenda, Greenford High School in London had been challenging traditional ideas of social inclusion and pastoral support.
The school has effectively brought in house a multi-agency team of professionals - many of whom had not worked in schools before - led by a non-teaching social inclusion manager who sits on the senior leadership team.
Greenford High School is a large secondary school with more than 1,600 students including 500 in its sixth form. Two-thirds of the pupils are of Asian or Asian-British origin and there is a growing number of Somali pupils.
The professional team that has developed has addressed roles previously undertaken by teachers and was praised in the school's 2005 Ofsted inspection as being "both a successful and cost-effective development in managing the school".
The structure is focused on connecting children's well-being to educational achievements and recent results suggest it is working. There has been a steady improvement in performance which has led to 99 per cent of pupils getting five or more A*-G grade GCSEs and two-thirds achieving five or more A*-C.
"Initially, the catalyst was the national Excellence in Cities initiative," says Head Kate Griffin. "This offered an opportunity to appoint a lead learning mentor. We added to the funds to create a post at a much higher level of responsibility. We had in place a well-established house structure and traditionally it was the head of house who dealt with pastoral problems and any youngsters who had issues they needed to talk about."
This included working with students who had been excluded from other schools. It was the experience of dealing with one such youngster who had been excluded for arson that brought home to Kate how much of teachers' time was being spent supporting this student during and after the transition.
In 2001 the school embarked on a five-year programme to set in place a new structure. Today this is led by the head of social inclusion, Jane Ayshford, who is responsible for a system of five pastoral workers, an attendance officer and the Every Child Matters agenda.
It is effectively a triangle of learning support, pastoral care and social inclusion with the latter adding a more professional edge to issues such as attendance monitoring, welfare, individual mentoring and re-integration support.
The five pastoral workers - who have backgrounds in mentoring, youth work and counselling - each look after a particular year group. As well as providing advice and support for the students, they liaise with teaching and learning coordinators, form tutors, the special needs coordinator and a learning mentor, and they maintain contact with parents.
The structure has dramatically increased the availability of staff to meet pupils and parents. "Having professionals who are not tied to a teaching timetable or the school day, allows us to be far more flexible," says Jane.
"For instance we've recently been in contact with some traveller families who are not necessarily easy to engage, but staff are able to attend external meetings which can take place either during the school day or outside school hours.
"If social services call a case conference at a moment's notice, our pastoral worker is able to drop everything and make that conference a priority. In other schools, if the teacher responsible is taking a GCSE class, they're going to be reluctant to hand that class over."
The success of the structure, both in terms of improved academic achievement, the social wellbeing of the students and time freed up for teachers, led to Jane's inclusion on the SLT last year.
"For whatever reason some of our youngsters struggle and they have particular difficulties to overcome," says Kate. "But there's now a team of people working with them. We can help them not only to enjoy the experience but to leave school with skills which make them employable."
Under the structure managed by Jane, the focus is on year groups rather than key stages and each year group has its form tutors, plus a pastoral worker, a learning coordinator and an attached SLT member.
Jane originally trained as a teacher but wasn't drawn to the classroom so didn't get QTS. Most of her career has been teaching young people and adults on alternative education and training schemes.
"It's my experience with those who have missed out on statutory education which set me up for what I'm doing," said Jane, who is also a lead practitioner with the Specialist Schools Trust.
Her caseload is many and varied, from overseeing attendance and lateness monitoring, casework, parenting contracts and possible legal action, Healthy Schools coordinator and Teenage Pregnancy link, liaison person for the Connexions service and being an active member of the local management committee.
"We're able to talk to outside agencies, take a pregnant teenage girl to a parenting group, support her ongoing school work. I can proceed right through to a court case, if necessary.
"In terms of lateness monitoring I'm in daily contact with my team about attendance. Other schools will perhaps have an attendance officer but they may be working in isolation.
"Our strength is that I have an overview of the issues being dealt with by a range of professionals who are liaising with teachers every day as part of a structured, professional social inclusion team," says Jane.
She also has oversight of Access and Education to Employment (E 2 E) for year 10 and 11 students who struggle to access the full curriculum.
"We offer an alternative vocational curriculum for years 10 and 11 and post-16, for example with B-tec entry level courses. We can assess what's needed in terms of support workers and what type of projects are going on in our locality that might benefit the students," she adds.
"It's a constantly evolving and developing system of support and what we've developed suits Greenford High School. If there was something I'd improve, it is probably the induction for the social inclusion team.
"In hindsight we made assumptions about their understanding of school life and some of the educational language that is used by teachers in schools every day.
"We have to remember that these are professional people who have not worked in schools before and may not have worked anywhere within the educational system."
They are still seeking ways to improve provision, adds Kate. "The more you do, the more you see there is to be done.
"It takes a considerable amount of time to work through issues such as teenage pregnancy for example, but we've been very successful in getting girls back to school.
"We have more support staff in school, more people with particular gifts to add an extra dimension and extra support. There are cost implications; it does mean employing more people but in my view, it's been money well spent."
Jane adds: "We're helping our school keep up with the constantly expanding national social inclusion agenda.
"We have brought together a set of dedicated and diverse individuals with specific skills who are able to tackle some of the children's issues and allow teachers to get on with their primary role.
"There are always ups and downs, but working with young people ultimately is very rewarding. On GCSE results day, to see the delight on their faces as they read their results makes it all worthwhile."
Simon Heath-Harvey is a freelance writer.
© 2017 Association of School and College Leaders