How effective is wraparound childcare provision in addressing issues in areas of deprivation? Therese Allen, head at Mychall Primary in Birmingham, dicusses why it plays such a key role in her school

Background

Wychall Primary School opened in September 2000. The school is located in a pocket of deprivation on the outskirts of Birmingham and the area served by the school has suffered in the past from lack of services and funding. Families felt neglected and were desperately in need of local support.

Back in 2003 we were given the opportunity to develop full-service extended provision in an attempt to address the issues that deprivation brought to families living on the estates that surround our school. Like many other pilot schools we knew nothing about, or had little idea, of how our ‘extended services’ would or could present themselves. What we did have, however, were a set of principles that would guide us in our development and would hopefully address the issues of low achievement and aspirations that seemed to be endemic within the school. These were:

  • that the services would be identified by the community
  • that the services provided would focus on the principles of early intervention and prevention
  • that we would always plan for sustainability.

Our journey has been both interesting and eventful, and can at best be described for us as evolutional in that we have ceased treating a child’s difficulties in isolation. As most practitioners know, there is usually a far more complex series of events and situations that underlie the ‘symptoms’ displayed by the child. Working only with the child is just eliminating the symptoms, while the underlying causes continue to impact and develop on the whole family both at that time and in the future. This frequently also results in the familiar, costly scenario of ‘too much too late’ rather than what we see as cost-effective holistic, preventative intervention.

I am sure this scenario will be unfortunately familiar to many heads of schools and children’s centres up and down the country and typifies the complex nature of the barriers many families face. As a result this then impacts on the future success and aspirations of their children. For me, this is a clear example of why individual elements of provision delivered through extended services or children’s centres such as childcare cannot been seen in isolation. Instead it plays a key role in a holistic approach that supports families through difficult times during which they become vulnerable. Our package of provision; childcare, family support, adult and family learning gives easier access to education and other experiences that enable families to begin to change life chances for their children.

Provision

During the last four years our provision has adapted to the needs of our community. Currently, under the core offer heading of ‘high-quality wraparound childcare’ we are able to offer:

  • wraparound care for children aged three to 11 – breakfast and after school
  • stay and play group
  • crèches to support adult learning
  • ‘Musical Babies’
  • ‘Little Wychalls’ (twos to threes) – this will be subsumed into our children’s centre day care
  • full day care for children 0-5 (opening at the end of April)
  • homework clubs for our previous ‘at risk’ pupils, children 11-14 years
  • child minder care through our local child minding network
  • Saturday drama groups
  • a range of after-school activities
  • holiday clubs
  • specific holidays clubs that invite children with particular behavioural difficulties to take part in sport and creative opportunities
  • the development of a local parent group that provides art and craft activities for local children.

We also provide an extensive range of adult and family learning programmes that take place on site or in the home. These range from leisure, to academic and vocational courses.

Safe, secure and successful

It is essential that in all these programmes (our childcare and other extended provision) that the ethos that exists in Wychall (safe, secure and successful) is maintained. Since the primary school opened in September 2000 we have gradually built up the trust and respect of parents and the local community. This, I am sure, has been a major factor in the success of our provision.

Daisy, our child and family centre manager, and Janette, our childcare manager, ensure good working links with all providers. They establish clear expectations in terms of service level agreements and regular monitoring; this is mutually beneficial to all parties. Parents trust that the agencies they engage with within our school and centre will treat them with respect. Even though the key elements of our childcare is currently not registered through school, the ethos and policies all follow the same child-centered approaches that are valued by parents and children. Children have a real say in how their clubs are organised and activities that are delivered and have their own committee. They benefit from the consistency of care and expectations that ensure everyone feels safe and valued.

Underpinning this provision is our family support team, comprising of a wide range of local professional and voluntary health and family support workers, offering child and parent counselling, housing advice and support, debt advice and behaviour parenting support. This group meets half termly to review cases, and ensure work is not duplicated. The offer of crèche facility ensures that when parents require support from one of our partner agencies they need not worry about who will look after their young children.

Outcomes

There is no doubt that this approach has had a real impact not only raising achievement and attitudes of pupils, but also in the resilience of our families. This has been demonstrated by many parents now taking a proactive approach when dealing with the stresses and strains of everyday life. These changes in attitudes have greatly influenced the following successes at Wychall:

  • For three years our SATs have shown steady improvement.
  • Attendance up to the national average.
  • Greater parent attendance at all events, eg parents’ evenings, assembles and curriculum sessions
  • Parents investing in long-term commitments in support of their children, eg family learning: one day per week for 12 weeks.
  • Children who have real ownership and pride in their school – we have very few difficulties with vandalism from the local estates.
  • Parents identifying difficulties for which they may need external help come into school to self-refer to a service, eg Anna.
  • Fully booked and well-attended basic skills courses.
  • Many parents going into work or further training, eg nursing, teaching assistants, university and counselling.
  • A lowering of tolerance thresholds regarding vulnerable children on the estate – parents will now refer concerns in an appropriate way.

However (yes, this is the inevitable health warning), there have been many difficulties and frustrations along our journey, hindsight being a wonderful thing.

Sustainability

We predicted that sustainability would be a problem. Our school was fortunate to receive funding, which finishes in March this year. This money has funded the organisation of services through our staff costs, buildings site management and heating costs. This in no way covers the true cost that enables the most vulnerable families to access services. Accessing funding through charities has proved a time-consuming and usually fruitless activity. Frequently, we had more success by linking with a voluntary sector group, Malachi Community Trust, who work in school providing child and parent counselling. Malachi would identify the family support required and place bids to various charities. This money has proved to be a lifeline. The last-minute nature in which funding from local wards is distributed causes uncertainty in the seamless provision of services. A clear example was the family counselling work that we were told had to finish with only four weeks’ notice. Clearly families could not be left ‘high and dry’ and a frantic search began to ensure counsellors had time to properly finish their work. 

Several years ago, before we gained children’s centre status, we identified a real need to provide a pre-nursery facility. A key role of this provision was to identify at the earliest possible stage learning, physical or social needs that may impact on the child’s development. Children are referred by local health visitors and we quickly developed a waiting list. The facility was expensive, staff needed to be well qualified and experienced in working with other specialist agencies. We managed to get a grant initially for two days per week from NRF funding. This grant had to be renewed annually; frequently the final decision was left until the last minute. Retaining high-quality staff with this level of uncertainty is near impossible, and we were constantly trawling for small pots of money to ensure this effective programme could be maintained. After April the ‘twos to threes’ will merge into our day care provision and alternative approaches to funding will be implemented.

Providing for the right people – the chicken and egg challenge

Engaging hard-to-reach families takes time, consistency, patience and money!
Many soundbites have been aired regarding the targeting of the ‘hard-to-reach families’. Frequently we find that these families have had very shoddy treatment during their own school experience or as young, inexperienced adults with housing, schools, health professionals and other figures in authority. It then seems understandable that they feel reluctant to form any sort of constructive working relations with school. Like many other settings we have found through a softly, softly approach parents will gradually engage and slowly gain confidence to join in ‘light’ courses with support, basic skills and finally vocational qualifications. This, however, takes time (probably several years) and funds have to be found for crèches and childcare – not always available for non-vocational courses. Understandably, the children’s centre funding demands that although non-profit making, the day care provision should pay for itself.

This then is the chicken and egg challenge. For our parents to access affordable day care they need to be in work or vocational training. For the parent previously reluctant to become ready for this step, they often require more basic training that does not have attached childcare provision. As a result, these families cannot access child and family centre day care provision. Business sense tells us that we will need to keep our places full of fee-paying clients. Governors were determined that our purpose-built facilities would not be filled entirely with children from the well-to-do families from nearby, but filled by the families that really need this provision.

Has someone missed the point?!

How much can a school take on? Capacity building and letting go!
A question I am most frequently asked is how we find the management capacity to run our additional facilities. Historically, my answer was that in the majority of cases, for extended programmes we are only the hosts, the facilitators. I could easily justify school management time as these services directly impacted upon standards in school. Childcare, however, is not so cut and dry. Governors have had to balance the benefits to the school with the undoubted responsibilities that come with providing quality day care through our new children and family centre and the subsequent demands placed on the senior manager’s time. It is vital that the quality of the provision and the schools ethos was maintained and that parents, children and staff worked and played in a ‘safe, secure and successful’ environment. It was also vital that somehow we were able to sustain places for our most vulnerable children. It was agreed that as a school we would register the day care and wraparound provision and appoint senior staff. Determined that the school budget would not be challenged in any way, we decided to identify local people who had been involved in the development of our community services to set up a not-for-profit company with charitable status. In doing this we hope to overcome several key issues:

  • The company would employ day care staff and the staff for wraparound care. This would lesson the work load for school, yet still provide a direct line of responsibility for staff and their training.

  • Because it would have charitable status the company would be able to access far more streams of funding, which in time would enable the company to purchase places for families in need.

  • Recruitment and retention. Under the current structure the childcare manager is employed by school. Through historical factors the staff that provide the majority of the holiday and wraparound care are employed through a parents’ committee as a private arrangement. This has meant that pay is low and the hours awkward, particularly for working mums. Under this arrangement there would be more certainty in terms of the timing and number of hours and more flexibility. Through fundraising the company would also be able to offer good market rates for each role.

  • It would broaden our base of expertise in developing services for our community without making too many additional demands on school; once again we would be the hosts.

  • Trained and experienced volunteers will be taking on the role of fundraising and bid writing.

The future

Transition from extended services to child and family centre provision
At the end of April (builders permitting) we hope to open our child and family centre building. This is a crucial time for all staff and our families. Thought and careful planning is required for this transition if we are to maintain all the positives that full service extended provision has brought to our community and utilise fully the opportunities that the centre presents to our reach-area families. Our partner organisations in health, housing and voluntary sector are all looking forward to the transition, especially the additional space! Work begins on enlarging our staff room in a month’s time as we are expecting an additional eight staff on the premises at any one time. Having the opportunity for these staff to meet and share ideas and experiences is essential if the consistency of care and provision is to be maintained and a ‘them and us’ culture prevented.

The company articles have been drawn up (the hardest part was thinking of a name!) and we have several talented individuals, some who are retired professionals who would like to work in the community. Risk taking seems to be an integral part of this type of work; exit strategies have been planned and sit on the back shelf. Hopefully this is where they will remain.

Supporting vulnerable children and families Anna came in to apologise that her oldest had not been attending his place in nursery and that her two year old had not yet started in ‘twos to threes’. She looked exhausted. Her partner had left just weeks prior to the birth of their third child and her baby had been ill recently with chest infections.  Anna is a tenant in a local, unimproved council house with little heating and damp. One gas fire in the lounge has to be on constantly and the gas company were threatening to take action regarding the unpaid bills. The front door that had been broken by fighting neighbours weeks before had not been repaired as she was being held liable for the cost of the repairs. Anna had a history of self harming and was worried that she was starting to have these ‘bad’ thoughts again.

Anna had been referred to us by our local health visitor who had asked if we could provide a full-time nursery place for the oldest child at our twos to threes provision.  Our childcare manager was able to arrange this and also fund a few hours each week with our local child minder network. This enabled Mum the time and space to begin to unpick and prioritise her problems. The Family Support Team were able to offer counselling and a tenancy support worker helped Anna to negotiate with the gas company, other debtors and the local council.

Category: