Some of the key success factors in the development of extended schools provision across a cluster are discussed by Dave Dunkley, headteacher at Coleshill Heath Full Service Extended School in Solihull, and Ruth Shand, lead officer for extended services at Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council

This case study outlines the work that has been undertaken to ensure that our extended schools provision is strategic and joined up in reality, not just rhetoric. It also explains what makes multi-agency collaboration work for us at Coleshill Heath and in other schools across North Solihull and looks at some of the innovative ways we have enhanced our delivery and ensured it is long term and part of a bigger picture. The box below sets out the background to the development of extended schools provision in North Solihull.

The context

Back in 2003 North Solihull was one of the 25 pathfinders involved in the DfES extended schools pathfinder project. Two experienced primary headteachers led the work from the Whitesmore family of schools. While schools had been embracing the type of work for many years, involvement in pathfinder formalised this work and enabled us to develop our vision for extended schools in Solihull. This married well with the transformational change that Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council had undertaken to create the education and children’s service function and the council’s commitment to develop new Sure Start provision in the area served by the extended schools pathfinder. This timely development fitted strategically with a number of other initiatives and developments within the area, for example, excellence cluster – whose executive were the key vehicle for joining up initiatives that impact on schools in the area – and the behaviour improvement programme (BIP). From the onset we were aware of the importance of strategically embedding our work. When the full service extended schools initiative was launched as part of BIP, it became clear that this was a unique opportunity to further develop the work of the extended schools pathfinder and ensure that schools in the borough were a key piece of the big jigsaw in terms of joint working.

Why a cluster approach?

One thing we always try and do is maximise development and maximise effect. We identified that a cluster approach to the development of extended school provision would effectively mean we could offer provision to more students, parents and community members and generate outcomes in more than one school and geographical area. All four North Solihull wards (Fordbridge, Chelmsley Wood, Kingshurst and Smith’s Wood) are within the top 10% most deprived areas in England, with Chelmsley Wood ward being amongst the top 5% – we wanted to impact in all these areas. Our ‘hub and spoke’ cluster model, which involved one full service extended school (Coleshill Heath Primary School) as the ‘hub’ and four primary stage extended schools (Hatchford, Bishop Wilson, Yorkswood and Kingfisher) as the ‘spokes’ operating as satellites for patch activity in the four wards, enabled us to meet our objectives. This model, it can be said, provided a joint opportunity to maximise the resources and experience in the area to create potentially more than one full service extended school. This cluster of five schools was just the first step and from this came a vision for the creation of 15 extended schools across the patch, with more and more coming on board and embracing the extended schools agenda.

Partnership working

Extended schools in North Solihull and the partners they are working with strive to achieve collaborative working practices that are effective in every sense of the word. This involved thinking about ‘who needs to become involved before a situation becomes a crisis?’ and creating coordinated and cohesive multi-agency networks which bring together a range of expertise and can support young people and families when they need this support. The value, we say, is in the relationships between professionals. The culture in which we work is one of trust and respect for others’ roles, skills and knowledge and one of learning from each other. There is also a great deal of ‘thinking outside of the box’ and a move away from ‘ivory tower’ and ‘empire building’ mentality. Agencies working in true partnership see the clear benefits of joint planning and delivery and place a premium on the value of conversations. They identify common targets and objectives and see that combining expertise and resources means provision can be more accessible to local people when they need it. They identify that so much can be achieved without many additional resources and recognise that what is needed is simply a different way of delivering existing services. At another level we have a very strong partnership with the wider community. The commitment to this can be seen in recruitment patterns in the FSES. Approximately 76% of the FSES staff are comprised of the support team and approximately 63% of these staff live local to the school. We have also involved parents in decision making and planning of extended school provision. Another success factor, and one which has impacted on attainment in some of our primary extended schools, has been partnership working and more effective liaison between adults responsible for learning so that now it is not unusual to see a teacher alongside a phase leader, or a classroom assistant and nurture assistant analysing data and agreeing appropriate next steps for individual children. In terms of support on the ground, each school (secondary and primary) has appointed a learning mentor and nurture assistant and each primary school in North Solihull has a full-year, full-time child and family support worker appointed to operate as part of integrated extended services support for children, young people and their families. Post holders are based in school and work with school and other agencies to identify children who demonstrate an emerging need in their emotional, social and behavioural development (ESBD). There is an open-door policy of engagement with children and their families and workers use the Solihull child and family support model to engage with children, young people, their families and other agencies to provide early intervention, prevention and targeted support. One secondary school has appointed two workers as impact on, for example, attendance and self-confidence are so noticeable. We acknowledged from very early on how vital it was for multi-agency professionals working in schools to have adequate support and access to ongoing professional development. A mentor for each child and family support worker is allocated from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) to provide support, consultation, joint visits with children/families and termly joint meetings with the headteacher. CAMHS also contribute to training and have delivered sessions on different approaches to working with children and families and Mellow Parenting groups have run in schools. CAMHS have also delivered training on the Solihull approach to partnership working which provides a common language and consistency of approach to children and families. Joint appointments have also been a success. For example, one school for young people with ESBD has jointly appointed, through extended services and health, a child and adolescent mental health nurse to work alongside young people and their families. We have also developed a system whereby each school in North Solihull has a link social worker from within children’s services. The excellence cluster in North Solihull has been instrumental in setting up a strong and vibrant network for workers in extended services to share practice, make use of data and resources, find support and develop professionally through the initial national training initiative and more recently the newly established joint induction Children’s Workforce Development Council training for all support workers across Children’s Services.

Innovative working practices
We can’t underestimate the importance of innovating. To give more of a flavour of how this all works in practice we’ve provided some examples in the boxes below that demonstrate the diversity and complexity achieved through the innovations of our approach.

Summer open-access play Since 2005 extended services and key agencies working within Solihull have worked together to create open access play opportunities for children within the area. The scheme is based around the ‘three frees’ principle; an open-access play provision is a setting where children, including those under eight years old, are free to come and go as they please, free to decide for themselves what to take part in and how they go about it and free of cost to the children to attend. The most recent scheme run this summer (2007) was funded through the Big Lottery Fund’s Children’s Play programme. The scheme itself has historically been provided at school and community sites in Solihull, although during the latest scheme a detached team was set up to provide activities in other public spaces. These included spaces between high-rise flats, near shops and in public parks. A scheme such as this depends highly upon communication between those agencies already providing childcare and play provision. In total the scheme provided activities at 18 sites during five weeks of the summer holidays, which 967 children attended for free. We were also able to support 31 children with additional needs at the various playing out sites. This forward thinking this has strengthened the scheme’s knowledge of inclusion and will improve this type of work in the future.

We are constantly looking for innovative ways to enhance and further develop extended services provision. For this to happen, thinking and practice had to evolve beyond what had been done before. For instance, only through moving away from the historical model of providing provision from the school site were we able to engage more hard to reach children. Moreover, whilst the idea of open access play can, at first, provoke concerns regarding safety, we argued that this is the most powerful type of play in that it benefits the whole child and offers opportunities for social engagement and cognitive development and… we managed to engage almost 1,000 children.

Community sport for all We have linked with our School Sports Partnership (SSP) to develop an opportunity relating to sporting activities. The links with our local school sports coordinator enabled us to train practitioners from a variety of settings before distributing resources and equipment. Staff from after-school clubs, play workers, youth workers, learning mentors, nurture assistants and child and family support workers have all benefited from the scheme and now provide a multitude of activities for young children across North Solihull. This blurring of roles has impacted on scope of provision and meant we are reaching more young people. On the back of our success with the SSP we are now extending out into other areas of the community where we plan to link with an initiative called NS Fusion aimed at providing sporting opportunity for youngsters with emphasis on preventative work relating to anti-social behaviour. We have also linked with West Midland Police and Education Welfare to provide sporting provision in tag rugby.

There are many more examples we could give of innovative working practices and thinking outside of the box. This is something we try and embed into our daily work. It is evident in our high-level work and also in the smaller things. For instance, we now have a fleet of community transport vehicles that are kept out on the patches but administered out of the FSES. This transport is used for a range of purposes including transporting pupils to and from school that would otherwise be unable to attend regularly, assisting with children attending residential trips particularly those from families in greatest need, moving a mattress and bed for a young parent making the first move in to independent accommodation and enabling child and family workers to attend appointments with family members. This means that for vulnerable children and families support is extended immediately with someone they know and have an existing relationship with, people who act as intermediaries – attending, hearing and helping interpret often complex, clinical advice or help being given just when it is needed.

Strategic embedding

It is true that the small but significant things make all the difference. However, it is also important to ensure that extended schooling fits into the bigger picture strategically. Various extended school documents call it ‘strategic embedding’ and this is what we have always tried to do. But what are we embedding the extended schools strategy with? At one level it was about strategic linking extended schooling with other education-focused initiatives. We’ve already mentioned BIP and the excellence cluster. We realised that in order for this to be part of a much bigger picture, one which has the potential to transform communities and improve life chances of as many community members as possible, we had to think beyond simply the important educational initiatives. We had to look wider. Now the strategic, planned, developmental growth and commitment to the local community continues alongside local partners in regeneration. This is high-level work that grew out of the seedlings put in place at the time of the pathfinder and in the years prior to this. It is something that is possible for all to achieve in partnership. It is about recognising the important role that extended services have to play in contributing to regeneration and in meeting the Every Child Matters outcomes. Schools must be seen as a vehicle through which transformation can happen. They are at the hub of the community and are a resource for the community. This is how we have always viewed our schools and welcome the recognition that the extended schools initiative has brought. But it is about far more than recognition, it is about making it happen for children and young people, and as we will reiterate, it is about maximising impact. This is why the Solihull FSES and extended schools progress and lead on the ‘Every Child Matters’ thinking and planning, providing services organised around the needs of children and families.

The role of schools in regeneration
In 2005, Solihull Council signed a radical agreement with a group of private-sector partners to regenerate the four wards we were working in. This will result in a total of £1.8bn of investment in the area over 15 years so that homes, the environment, transport, economic opportunities and education will all be transformed.

At the heart of this regeneration programme will be ten brand-new extended primary schools. Built to high specifications, they will include facilities of wrap-around care, before- and after-school facilities, holiday play schemes, multi-agency collaboration, pre-school provision and adult learning. Five of the schools will be fully integrated into village centres, allowing teams from across different parts of the council together with the community and voluntary sector to play a key role as we all strive to meet the five outcomes of Every Child Matters. The integrated multi-agency teams working across patches will use the Solihull child and family support model and common assessment framework and, where appropriate, there will be pooled budgets through local area agreements. There will be also be commissioning of services in each of the patches through the Children and Young People’s Trust arrangement to ensure services are targeting the key priorities set out in the Children and Young Person’s Plan. This, it is hoped, will help sustain provision and ensure there is capacity on the ground. In order to make the most of this opportunity, a small group of staff from both the council and the care trust have been meeting to take greater responsibility for the delivery of children’s services in the area and to accelerate collaboration between professional providers. This has resulted in decisions being taken locally about the level and type of school support necessary in particular circumstances, improvements in the sharing of information between services and more efficient use of targeted funding opportunities. Schools are also exploring ways to improve collaboration and take shared responsibility for ensuring that families in need are identified and supported at the earliest opportunity. This task would be all the more difficult if there was not the infrastructure in place within which they could work and a key facilitating factor in all of this has been the close, supportive relationship between the schools and the local authority lead person for extended schools and extended services.

The commitment is in place at all levels and this has helped North Solihull to further develop provision and develop 15 extended schools, with many more moving in this direction. A matrix map recognises the range of extended school activity in each of the 15 primary schools in the four wards and forms a planning tool for further development. All this work is happening currently and forms a major part of future developments. In all of this extended schools have a fundamental role to play. They of course can not do it alone, nor can it happen without their important input and commitment to partnership working and the merits this brings.