Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Open minded

Flower

Despite the challenges and frustrations of moving to extended schools, Steve Wilkinson urges colleagues to keep an open mind about this once-in-a-career opportunity to change the ways schools operate.

t would seem that the extended schools initiative is not highly popular with some school leaders across the country.

My own dealings with colleague heads suggests that there is a wide range of responses to the government's Every Child Matters agenda. Some say it is a sledgehammer to crack a nut and others that it matches the work done in many schools in the name of community schools.

As will become clear, I am a strong advocate of any development that puts schools at the centre of support for our students and their parents.

Working in the large and disparate shire county of Cumbria it is easy to become frustrated about the pace at which developments are taking place. However, new structures are emerging and I would urge my colleagues to be a little more patient.

Now is a once-in-a-career chance to finally work more cooperatively with partner agencies, not only to reduce the chances of another catastrophic event for an individual child but to provide a more joined up, efficient service for all vulnerable youngsters. The spin off will also have a positive effect on our schools and the communities we serve.

Over the last few months, the children's services partnership in our LA has started to develop area and locality-based working arrangements that integrate service planning and delivery. Not least, this makes better use of resources and shifts the balance of how they are used towards prevention.

Universal services (provided to all children and young people) will be offered through schools and the school clusters that will form our extended schools.

Wrapped around these would be the targeted services provided by a variety of organisations that support the specific needs of children, their families and carers. These may include a wide range of services and agencies brought together to deliver preventative services to meet the needs of the local community.

Having been a strong advocate of community education, I was pleased to be in a pilot in Cumbria for extended schools in the Kendal area. In October 2005, we appointed an extended schools coordinator and quite soon started to work with many local partners on some of the easier aspects of the core offer, which are the bread and butter of community schools.

These include:

  • varied activities such as homework clubs and study support, sports, music tuition, special interest clubs and volunteering

  • parenting support, including information sessions, parenting programme and family learning sessions

  • working with a nursery which is owned by a company set up by a number of our school governors

  • working with primary schools to offer high quality childcare from 8am to 6pm

In moving the extended schools agenda forward, we now have a community conference facility and a multi-agency base used by Connexions, our school counsellor or alternative curriculum co-ordinator, learning mentor, community paediatrician, school nurse and a host of others who work with our students and their families.

In parallel with our own development, we have established the Kendal Community Partnership across all the schools in Kendal and the outlying village primary schools that feed two large comprehensive schools. We have now been asked to develop a model for locality delivery platforms.

The difficult bit is still to be completed. It is easy to say that there must be quick and easy referral to a wide range of support services such as speech and language therapy, family support services and behaviour support. It is another thing to make this a reality.

The challenges that face us are numerous. The bureaucracy of our partner organisations is different from our own, the culture is strange and some, particularly in health, are undergoing significant structural changes of their own.

In addition, we are all having to learning a new language and attend a bewildering number of meetings.

I firmly believe that school leaders have the skills as well as the passion to make the Every Child Matters agenda a reality.

We have made a start and with renewed energy; I am confident that our pilot will make a difference to my students and their families, but will also have an effect on the Kendal Community Partnership and perhaps more widely in Cumbria.

Stephen Wilkinson is headteacher of The Queen Katherine School in Kendal, a member of the Kendal Community Partnership, chairman of The South Lakes Federation of Schools and chair of the Cumbria Branch of ASCL.

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