The extended services agenda is about far more than schools simply making available space and facilities for community use. It is about schools working dynamically in partnership to provide highly tailored and client-led models of community support. It is through such activities as promoting and sharing access to equipment, eg computers and other facilities; supplying quiet, supportive places in which to study and safe places to meet friends and participate in exciting activities; and providing nourishing food to allow students to start the day well, that many children and young people can combat some of the debilitating effects of economic deprivation. Opening up schools in this way and developing their role as a focal point for a whole community results in greater support for all, and this is particularly important for those with additional needs.
Supporting the needs of vulnerable children
The Children’s Act places a duty on local authorities to promote the educational achievements of looked-after children (LAC) and other vulnerable groups. Research shows that the gap in achievement between children and young people who are in care compared with all other children increases from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 3, and that only a very small percentage of vulnerable children achieve five A*-C GCSE grades or the equivalent.
Many vulnerable children have unmet emotional, mental and physical health needs that, understandably, impact on their education. Their lives are often fragmented and unstable and they may miss schooling for long periods or change schools frequently. They often miss having key adults in their life who can support them in building the resilience they need to achieve their best potential. The role of the local extended services team within this agenda is therefore a vital one in identifying and providing the type of fully inclusive, wraparound support that is vital to ensuring the wellbeing of vulnerable children.
Children and young people with special needs are another group it is vital to consider within the provision of extended services. The Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 states that public authorities have: ‘duties to make it unlawful to discriminate without justification against disabled pupils and prospective pupils in all aspects of school life’ and ‘the duty not to treat a disabled pupil less favourably, but to make reasonable adjustments.’
Public authorities, for example schools, hospitals and councils, must make sure that disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. They must:
- stop discrimination against disabled people
- make sure people are not bullied or called names because they are disabled
- make it easier for disabled people to take part in making decisions
- ask disabled people what they need to make things better.
An inclusion strategy should state: ‘The ultimate goal for everybody engaged in providing services for children and young people is that their work should contribute towards high levels of personal achievement for all children and young people, both as individuals and as citizens, contributing towards the greater good.’
A recent consultation process revealed that disabled children and young people wanted more out of school activities and were concerned about access and transport to enable them to participate in existing services. They reported that staff attitudes were variable. Parents felt that inclusion was working well but that it was not always easy to access services.
Many disabled children encounter difficulties in accessing extended services, and although they may need some additional support, it is unlikely to be of the same intensity as they need to access the curriculum. There is often an assumption that children with a disability who need one-to-one support in school will need the same level of support to access extended services; however, this is often not the case, as the services are much less formal.
Overcoming barriers to inclusion
Recognising and removing barriers to inclusion is a key principle in promoting the needs of vulnerable children within extended services, and the depth of information that special needs coordinators and inclusion managers receive about a child or young person with special needs, and their family circumstances, is vital.
All aspects of access must be accounted for within an inclusive policy. Transport issues will be a key consideration for those activities offered beyond the school day, particularly if specialist transport services are needed to facilitate access to the child or young person with special needs. There is already good practice within many special schools on establishing different methods of communication with parents to find out their particular barriers to access for their children, and this will be a vital link in the chain towards providing fully inclusive services.
Accessing local services can also be an issue for parents whose children are educated at home, as they are more likely to feel isolated due to lower awareness of or access to local services and support networks. Ensuring full community access to extended services can throw a lifeline of support to such families, helping tackle the social isolation by promoting new social networks, building awareness of local groups and creating access to activities and services.
Respite care can also be difficult to access and afford for the families of children with special needs, due to the complexity and cost of care needed. Extended services can play a significant role here in supporting carers through the provision of fully inclusive after-school and holiday activities, using the disadvantage subsidy as it is rolled out across the country and through the tax credits system. It is hoped that the child poverty needs assessment and strategy will strengthen the response to issues of economic wellbeing.
Further good practice in supporting parents of children with special needs includes:
The parent carer forums developed through Aiming High for Disabled Children. These forums aim to develop parent participation, increase consultation and enable parents to develop support networks. The forums will enable an SEN perspective to be included in the district parenting forums.
The local authority’s early intervention strategy: This should help to ensure that parents continue to be a focal point and that the best support services are offered to parents by schools.
What does the future hold?
There is no doubt that a radical overhaul of education is already under way. However, it is to be hoped that from the Equalities Bill, the schools white paper published in November 2010, and the forthcoming green paper which aims to improve the entire special educational needs system and will cover issues including school choice, early identification and assessment and funding and family support, that the outcomes will move us ever closer to a fully integrated and fully inclusive infrastructure of support.
One key phrase from the recent white paper will have resonated with all those involved in the provision of extended services: ‘Good schools work with parents, community organisations and local agencies to create a healthy, safe and respectful environment in school, after school, and on the way to and from school.’ One of the key aims of the white paper is to provide greater freedom and choice for all the stakeholders, and in particular those who have additional educational and welfare needs. At the heart of a world class curriculum lies the philosophy that learning takes place in a wide range of settings both in and out of school, with learners being actively involved in both community and environmental projects. Those who are involved in extended services have never been in a stronger position to support young people so that they become confident individuals, successful learners and responsible citizens.
|How can schools ensure that their extended services provision is fully inclusive?|
The following guidelines can help to ensure that the extended services activities provided by your school meet current legislative requirements and are fully inclusive and supportive of those pupils with additional needs.
Sandra Teacher is an extended services consultant