The idea of extended schools has a long history, says Pam Woolner, and we can learn from ideas that have been tried in the past

The appeal of extending the use of schools beyond the traditional school day and into the wider community has a long history.  Not surprisingly, it has frequently occurred to people that limiting the use of school premises to tightly restricted times and a minority of the local population is wasteful of what could be a central community resource. In this issue we look at what has been suggested and, more importantly, put into practice in the past. In the 1830s, in the north western USA, the campaigner and school reformer Henry Barnard advised that ‘the school-house is the appropriate depository of the district library’, since then it could be used by the whole community. Jonathan Priestley, father of the writer JB Priestley, is credited with having similar aspirations for Green Lane Primary School in Bradford. As headteacher at the beginning of the 20th century he oversaw provision, for the first time, of hot school dinners. 

Community vision
Not long after this, Teddy O’Neil’s innovations at Prestolee School took the idea of extending education considerably further. In a very ordinary red brick elementary school near Bolton, Lancashire, Mr O’Neil, headteacher from 1918 to 1953, developed an educational and social resource for the whole community. In the evenings the school was used as a community centre (the ‘Palace of Youth’) and catered for up to 400 people a night for dances and other cultural activities, at a cost of 6d (2½p) per night. The playground was constructed by the children and contained a windmill, water gardens, fountains, a well and a large paddling pool. In a lengthy declaration of all that a school should  be, O’Neil listed ‘a den of hobbies and indoor games’ as well as ‘a place for lectures and teaching’; ‘a gymnasium’ but also ‘a fair garden’ and sees the premises including ‘a reference library, a picture gallery, a museum, a reading room’ (see Prestolee School website for full details).

Life-long learning

In Cambridgeshire, Henry Morris took a different approach. As secretary of education, 1922-1954, he was determined to effect change at the local authority level.  In 1924 he published his ‘Memorandum’, which explained how ‘village colleges’ could reinvigorate declining rural areas by providing a community centre for educational, social and cultural activities: The village college would take all the various vital but isolated activities in village life – the school, the village hall and reading room, the evening classes, the agricultural education courses, the Women’s Institute, the British Legion, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, the recreation ground, the branch of the County Rural Library, the athletic and recreation Clubs – and, bringing them together into relation, create a new institution for the English countryside. As the community centre of the neighbourhood it would provide for the whole man, and abolish the duality of education and ordinary life. Morris was keen that education must not be set apart from other aspects of living. He was critical of the progressive, but essentially separate, education offered by the Danish Folk High Schools, which were boarding institutions set apart from local society. In contrast, Morris argued that the village college would be a visible demonstration in stone of the continuity and never ceasingness of education. There would be no ‘leaving school’! – the child would enter at three and leave the college only in extreme old age. It would have the virtue of being local so that it would enhance the quality of actual life as it is lived from day to day – the supreme object of education… It would not be divorced from the normal environment of those who would frequent it from day to day, or from that great educational institution, the family. The bold vision of Henry Morris was in fact put into action with a series of village colleges built during the 1930s using money from various sources including donations from American benefactors and foundations. Around the same time as the development of the Cambridgeshire village colleges, what came to be known as the ‘community school’ movement was gathering pace in the USA. This developed from a background which included the provision of ‘consolidated schools’, amalgamations of rural schools into educational and cultural centres, helped along by the ideas of educationalists and philosophers, including Henry Barnard and John Dewey, who envisaged the school as an integrated aspect of a democratic community. This idea of ‘citizen participation through the community schools’ subsequently developed across the US. Similar ideas are clearly embodied by British secondary schools, generally built in the 1960s and 70s, which house the local swimming pool, sports centre or dance and drama studio.

Full-service schools
A more radical conception of extended schools is seen in the USA in recent interest in ‘full service’ schools. These centre on providing health and other support services, usually based in the school grounds and so accessible to children and their families. American schools on this model date back to the late 1970s and have been described by researcher and advocate, Joy Dryfoos.

Further information about the history of extended schooling can be found on the website of the Informal Education Network.

Pam Woolner is from the Centre for Learning and Teaching at the University of Newcastle