What lessons can be learned from the community education movement to help ensure the success of extended schools? Richard Bird, former headteacher and now legal consultant to the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), looks at this issue

A man goes up to a bar. He asks for six pints of bitter. The barman says: ‘Do you want a tray with these?’ The man says, ‘For goodness sake, I’ve got six pints of beer to carry.’

Does this extract from a BBC broadcast sound familiar? The extended schools idea could be a tray…

‘(The school) is designed so that all its workshops and laboratories can be used by both adults and adolescents. You may go there any evening and find hundreds of young people and parents enjoying a general programme of lectures, crafts, games, dance, cinema, or simply sitting in the common room over a cup of coffee and a magazine. The school here is not isolated but part of a community pattern.’

If you thought they were from a visionary description of extended schools by Ruth Kelly or a presentation of the vision for Building Schools for the Future, you would be mistaken. The speaker was Henry Morris, creator of the Cambridgeshire Village College; describing, in 1942, his vision for the future of secondary education. Is there is anything to be learned from what came afterwards or should extended schools start with a clean sheet and ‘community education’ be relegated to the history books?

After all, the village college was designed to deal with a set of problems which do not exist today. ‘The past is another country’ is more true of the countryside than almost anywhere else in Britain except the inner city.

Revitalising the countryside

Morris designed village colleges to provide a base for a revitalising of the countryside. As schools they would bring together the older children in a central school and give better education through better resources. His ‘agreed religious education syllabus’ had persuaded the Anglicans and Free Churches to accept a common school. The superior facilities would provide a base for education and recreation for adults, particularly young adults, and would prevent the drift to the cities. And the size of the job would attract a class of headteacher that could provide the leadership that rural areas needed after the cull of rural leaders during World War One.

Morris pursued his plan with a ruthless passion, almost regardless of the Cambridgeshire Education Authority, finding private money to add to the funding available to the committee in order to provide the additional facilities essential for his plan. His first village college was opened in 1925; the last in 1966, after his death.

Briefly, in the 1970s and early 1980s, it did seem as if Morris’s idea would triumph. From Devon to Strathclyde, there were local education authorities buildings, or designating ‘community schools’ or ‘community colleges’. New schools were built with increasingly ambitious community facilities. Theatres, swimming pools, even ice-rinks, were co-located with schools; though in other schemes, schools were simply given a multi-purpose adult common room.

Some counties made it a policy to have community colleges in all strategic communities. The movement was not confined to rural or semi-rural areas: Coventry also had a commitment to ‘community education’. Indeed, the movement was particularly concerned with reaching out to those areas which had been left behind in the general rise in the consumption of education.

By the late 1970s the movement had become large enough to have its own national Community Education Association and, through the sponsorship of Coventry Education Authority, a community education development centre. Community schools and colleges were attracting large numbers of adult students, even in areas with little tradition of adult education, running youth clubs, crèches and mother and toddler groups, running or providing facilities for sport for all ages and taking the initiative in a range of community developments.

In one small county, for example, the community colleges initiated the Youth Opportunities Scheme and purchased a double-decker bus which travelled the area providing a mobile youth club and adult learning. In the language of the time: ‘The school as a resource for the community and the community as a resource for the school.’

Management structures varied, but in addition to standard school staffing there were organisers for adult and for youth activities and for recreation. The preferred pattern was for the whole operation to be managed by the head acting as chief executive. Some teachers were given dual contracts so they worked part-time for the school and part-time for the youth service or adult education or community development.

The community education movement began to falter during the 1980s. The original vision behind it was never fully realised. Even in those local authorities which were most committed to it, not all schools, even secondary schools, were ‘designated’ as community schools or colleges.

The Inner London Education Authority never embraced it. Perhaps this was partly the result of the ‘not invented here’ syndrome; but there was also a belief in London that community education should not be based on schools.

There was little support from the centre. The collective memory of the Board of Education retained through all its subsequent name changes the basic policy laid down by Lord Eustace Percy in the 1920s: ‘What is this little bubble we must prick?’

The problem was that a silo organisation could not cope with an initiative that cut across branches devoted to schools, adult education, youth work, recreation and community development. The culmination of this process of neglect was the stealing of the name ‘community school’ to describe schools that continued to be under complete LEA control in the 1998 Standards and Framework Act.

LEAs changed. The local authority of the 1960s, with a huge budget and responsibilities for everything from polytechnics to infant schools, had the power to move money around and to commit it to more expensive staffing structures in community colleges. As the wider parts of the local authority empire were given their freedom and Local Management of Schools secured money to particular ends, it became harder to fund the necessary infrastructure.

It was not only the DfES and its predecessors that were organised in silos. Local government also had empires within empires. In one ‘community school’ (Sutton Centre) adult education, and recreation (County Council), social services (County Council) the careers service (County Council) and Recreation (District Council) all had representatives on site.

Even where deals could be done between these competing empires, external factors impinged. For example, initially it was easily possible to devolve adult education. Once the FEFC and then Local Learning Skills Councils took control and imposed their increasingly bureaucratic accountability structures on adult and continuing education, local authorities felt compelled to take control and there was a gradual shift to centrally organised courses. A dual or multiple-use site rather than an integrated organisation was the result.

It is also true that the drive to hit performance targets has driven heads inwards to classroom improvement rather than considering the wider community; even in its impact on the school.

So, while many schools still have the word ‘community’ in their name alongside their specialism, the vision of the 1970s has mostly faded.

Extended schools – the difference

Despite superficial similarities in the rhetoric, extended schools are different. The drivers this time are providing a child-minding service to enable women to participate more fully in the workforce and a base for co-located services for Every Child Matters; to support parents and impact upon anti-social behaviour that arises from inadequate parenting; and to give children in maintained schools the rich extra-curricular opportunities available in independent schools. All these are a response to needs today, but they are different from integrated community education-community development.

The operation will also be different. Schools will commission, host or signpost activities rather than manage them. Although the funding will be start-up funding only, affordable childcare; swift and easy referral; community access to facilities; and parenting support are all to be needs-led. The provision of these activities will be collaborative. In the case of support for parenting, signposting parents to the support offered by others could be enough to meet the standard.

Nevertheless, there are lessons to be learned from the ‘community school’ movement. There are practical lessons about the community use of facilities; including good practice in dealing with the legal issues surrounding the unsupervised use of sporting facilities and IT; the additional needs for cleaning and caretaking; and needs identification.

Similarly, there is a danger that such funding as there is will disappear into the fog of the school funding system and ‘It’s in your budget’ will not convince. Needs-based work is more expensive than work where the punter pays and in adult learning extended schools could not be starting in a less friendly financial climate.

Like Henry Morris himself, community vice principals were immensely creative and ingenious people and could keep the same project going for years by bidding to completely different funds, which were apparently for completely different purposes. There is much to learn from the way they actively searched for funding or for voluntary sector partners, who can access funds where schools cannot.

There are lessons to learn about organisation. Even with third-party providers doing much of the work, someone in the schools will have to coordinate things, if only to placate the caretaker, or indeed the head of PE, who sees his/her equipment deteriorating from community use, without any addition to the budget to replace it.

There will be a need for active management and promotion, too. It will be important to set up systems to ensure that third-party providers and providers off-site have CRB-checked their staff. ‘Community schools’ found ways to do it.

The key lessons, though, are the need for a clear mission and for ownership. Admittedly, there was something in it for ‘community schools’: extra facilities; extra funding; extra staffing; and extra prestige. People wanted to be involved and those schools which were not designated tried to start things so that they could. But there were obstacles then and enthusiasm overcame them.

The extended schools agenda seems to have been imposed – apparently as the bright idea of an unsuccessful secretary of state who has now left. The idea has seemed to be that if it is added to the Ofsted process, then schools will be coerced into commitment. To which the response must be: ‘I don’t think so.’

If extended schools are to succeed there has to be a serious effort to win the hearts and minds of school leaders. There has to be something in it for the children and their schools.

One outcome that could be valuable is if real collaboration and partnership working emerged. If nothing else happened but the production of a wall-chart of what agencies do and are planning to do and who is doing it, this would be of enormous help to many schools. But it must be collaboration for action, not liaison for its own sake.

A cynic might say that in the present context for secondary schools ‘extending your school’ has to have a manifest link to improving contextual value added performance. Either that, or the standards by which schools are judged and heads removed will have to be wider than contextual value added performance: schools will have to be encouraged by action, not words, to take a wider, community development perspective. This can be done and the ‘community schools’ movement still has lessons for us as to how it can be done.