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An Investigation into the Efficacy of two English Extended Secondary Schools

Richard Rose, Andy Smith and Mary Feng Yan

Centre for Special Needs Education and Research University of Northampton, UK

Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Warwick, 6-9 September 2006

Abstract

The provision of ‘extended schools’ in England forms one part of series of educational and social initiatives which aim to increase social inclusion through addressing concerns over negative indicators such as poor school attendance and exclusions. The Childrens Act (2004) and the "Every Child Matters Agenda" has been implemented as a response to perceived deficiencies in holistic approaches to child support services and follows inquiries into shortcomings across education, health and social services. The legislation places schools at the core of child protection and support services, with an intended increase in inter-agency collaboration and improved communication to ensure that all pupils receive appropriate access to essential services. Extended schools provide additional services, such as holiday clubs, family support workers and counselling services which are available to all pupils and their families and aim to address the needs of the most vulnerable. Across England, an increase in the provision of extended schools indicates a move towards increased inter-professional liaison with a declared intent of improving support for vulnerable young people. Few evaluations of the efficacy of such provision have, as yet, been completed.

This paper reports on an investigation into the efficacy of two extended secondary schools in an English Local Authority. Using a combination of survey methods, observation and documentary analysis the researchers sought the opinions of teachers, pupils, parents and care agencies in assessing the impact of measures instigated to provide increased support and facilities for all pupils, and particularly those perceived to be at risk. The research was conducted over the period of one academic year and was undertaken by both ‘outsider’ researchers from the University of Northampton, and two teachers (one from each school) who were seconded to the project as ‘insider researchers’. School performance indicators were scrutinised to ascertain the influences of specific measures adopted under the extended schools actions and quantitative data was subjected to interrogation alongside the information obtained through interviews and observation. Case studies, which provide exemplars of the impact of the extended school process upon specific individuals were constructed and used to model further developments within the schools.

The researchers report on those measures, which are regarded by service users as having had a positive impact upon school performance in respect of supporting pupils at risk. The paper provides case study materials alongside both qualitative and quantitative data, which indicates the effectiveness of the extended schools process in the two study schools. The research findings are being used to inform further developments within the two schools and also to assist the Local Authority as it seeks to increase its use of extended schools.

Introduction

The concept of full-service schooling whereby the provision of health and welfare services and facilities are located within schools in order to provide a hub of service delivery to a community has been well established in some parts of North America for a considerable period of time (Cahill 1996, Raham 1998). Dryfoos (1994) has described the concept of school-based health and social care centres which bring a range of services together under one roof and thereby ensure a greater community focus both upon and within schools. She suggests that the movement towards a more integrated approach to providing services to both students and families through schools has been highly successful in strengthening community links and has had a positive impact upon attitudes towards schooling. She returned to a discussion of benefits to families in a later study (Dryfoos 1996) in which she provided case studies of schools from several parts of the USA through which she was able to identify the importance of schools recognising and responding to the unique needs of their own communities. She concluded that a model of full service schools was one which was likely to be expanded in the future and increasingly adopted to ensure cohesion of professional services. She also emphasised that this would be achieved only where communication between services and the commitment of professionals to collaboration was strong. The opinions expressed by Dryfoos are partly founded on a recognition that not all schools will be equipped or able to deliver a full service model. This point was further endorsed by Carlson, Paavole and Talley (1995) who advocate that a range of models of service delivery is most likely to be developed in the future, with the influence on full service school development determined according to demographic, social and economic factors. They make a particular observation that the push for health, education and social reform within a combined framework recognises that society is in a state of disequilibrium and is unsure how to adopt cohesive methods of addressing issues of disaffection and disadvantage. If this truly is the case, it is likely that the location of full service schools in the USA and the emerging and increasing numbers of extended schools in England will be focused upon areas where socio-economic need or community unrest is greatest.

In England the Department for Education and Skills (DfES 2005) describes an extended school as one which provides activities and services, often beyond the school day in order to address the needs of its pupils, their families and the wider community. Such schools, it is anticipated, will address critical issues in providing a more collaborative service across agencies from differing disciplines in order to assure that the needs of young people and their families, many of whom perceive themselves as disenfranchised in respect of education and welfare are fully addressed. The Children Act (DfES 2004) building upon Every Child Matters (DfES 2003) stresses the importance of constructing multi-agency teams which are responsive to local community needs and are seen as both accessible and welcoming to families who have previously felt at distance from the services which they offer. Full-service extended schools have been established as a means of providing a hub upon which services can be focused and where additional facilities, such as breakfast clubs, after hours clubs and holiday activities are provided as a means of supporting families in areas of need or deprivation.

The development of extended schools has not taken place without some difficulty. Dyson, Millward and Todd (2002) in a study of early pilot projects suggested that there was little consensus when it came to defining the role, purpose and nature of extended schools. They expressed a particular concern that the use of a deficit model in which communities were labelled as disadvantaged may possibly perpetuate a negative view of a school and thereby undermine the very motives for development of a full-service approach. In a later study Cummings, Todd and Dyson (2004) recognised that progress towards an ideal model in which community services were located in a school was invariably slow. They suggest that breaking down of professional barriers and realignment of services requires new thinking and positive measures to move forward from established custom and practice. In their study it was clear that a positive focus upon learning was maintained in the extended schools with the development of breakfast clubs, after school clubs and holiday activities as common features. Co-location of facilities was less easily achieved. The experience of these researchers tends to suggest that whilst there is a developing understanding of the need and purpose of extended schools, there is, as yet, very little evidence of the emergence of distinctive models for their facilitation.

A study conducted by Wilkin et al. (2003) concur with the views of other researchers that there are a variety of approaches towards the development of extended school provision. However, their research reveals some common traits, such as multi-agency collaboration, improved support for families and extension of the traditional school timetable as a feature of most such schools. The challenges of increased inter-agency working have been clearly acknowledged by other researchers (Vulliamy and Webb 2001, Lacey 2001, 2003) who propose that traditional working practices will only be changed if more effective systems of communication are put in place. Differences in working practices are to some extent determined through the varying legislation which has governed the actions of individual agencies and may cause some difficulties in respect of compatibility of procedures when working in a multi-agency environment (Makins 1997).

It is evident that many Local Authorities have moved closer to the development of a more integrated children’s’ service, and that there is a commitment to closer liaison across agencies, it is not yet possible to say how effective extended schools have been in supporting the government agenda of challenging disaffection and disadvantage. The need for further evaluation of projects in this area in order to ascertain the impact of practices and to inform possible future models of development is clear.

The research context

The research reported in this paper was commissioned by a Local Authority located in the English Midlands. The Local Authority had made a commitment to an expansion of its Extended Schools provision and in order to proceed with this development was eager to learn from the experiences of two schools which had been functioning within an Extended Schools Pilot Project for a period of three years. The research team was asked to conduct a one year study into these two schools in order to provide an understanding of their operation and was given the following brief:

  • To evaluate the efficacy of the two full-service Extended Schools within a Local Authority Extended Schools Pilot Scheme.
  • To construct case studies of interesting and innovative practice for dissemination to other schools within the Local Authority.
  • To gauge the perception of the Extended Schools from the perspective of service agencies and service users.
  • To provide commentary for the Local Authority with regards to continuation and expansion of the scheme.
  • The two comprehensive secondary schools upon which the research was focused are situated in areas which include pockets of considerable deprivation and where educational aspiration has traditionally been regarded as low. Both schools provide education to students between the ages of 11 and 16 years and are similar in size, each having approximately 900 students. Within the Extended Schools Pilot projects the schools had established a clear set of aims, these being:

  • To bring services closer to the community
  • To facilitate multi-agency working
  • To establish a community-based approach to schooling
  • To integrate the Extended School approach into established school systems
  • To develop core work with vulnerable students and at-risk families

    and

  • To work with partner agencies to develop non-core work.
  • The terms core and non-core work are used to distinguish a specific brief within the schools. Core work refers to five priorities for Extended Schools established by the UK government, these being :

  • High quality child care
  • A varied menu of activities
  • Parenting support
  • Swift and easy referral
  • Community access to school facilities
  • Funding provided for the establishment of the project within the two extended schools was in part utilised to provide within each school a family worker who had a brief to act as a link between the school, services provided by other agencies and the voluntary sector, and students and their families. Funding was similarly used to provide additional school nursing cover and to increase access to a Child and Family Therapy Services (CAFTS) worker in each school. The Local Authority had supported the two schools in planning their development as full-service schools with colleagues from health and social services, sections of the voluntary sector and the police service. These negotiations had resulted in the establishment of clearly defined links and roles and the location of some services, for example a community police officer, within the schools.

    Methods

    An initial questionnaire was given to all staff, teaching and non-teaching in both schools (N = 274). This yielded a return of 110 representing 40% of those distributed. Following categorical indexing of the responses from this questionnaire survey data was interrogated in order to inform the development of interview schedules which were used in semi structured interviews with a purposive sample of key service providers and users (see table 1).

    Table 1

    The sample of interviewees was as follows

    Students – N = 14

    School staff – N = 26

    Parents/carers – N = 14

    Professionals from other agencies – N = 16

    Head teachers – N = 2

    Local Authority Education Officers – N = 1

    Total number of interviews conducted = 73

    In addition, meetings were held with student representatives from the school councils.

    All interviews were conducted by members of the research team at times and in locations agreed with the respondents. Interviewees were provided with the questions prior to the interview. The interviews focused upon gaining personal perspectives from individuals who were involved either in delivery of the service or as a service user. For this reason they were conversational in format with individuals encouraged to recount incidents and experiences and to reflect on the impact which actions taken had upon their lives or professional practices and understanding. This naturalistic approach (Weiss 1994, Elliot 2005) was adopted in order to encourage respondents to provide a narrative of their personal experiences without being unduly led by the interviewer. A consequence of this approach was the variability in length of interview, some conducted with students lasting no more than ten minutes, whilst others with professionals or parents/carers lasted forty five minutes or more. Each individual interviewed provided a unique and personal interpretation of the ways in which the extended school process was operating and impacting upon their own lives. In order to verify the impact of the process upon individual students, interviews with critical persons clustered around the student were conducted in order that verification of interview data could be attained through triangulation across transcripts. In this way, the student became a focus or hub around which a number of other key individuals were clustered in order to construct a holistic case study (Yin 1994). By building up a number of case studies it was possible to conduct a process of analytical generalisation whereby trends and similarities across case studies in respect of practices and experiences could be extrapolated (Ragin 1987). As a study conducted within two schools the researchers were not concerned with generalisation of findings beyond the study sample other than to be able to provide indicators of practice as a basis upon which the Local Authority and other schools could form their own ideas for development. However, there was a concern to establish trustworthiness within the study (Lincoln and Guba 1985) in order that statements made about practices within the schools and their impact upon students, families and professional practices could be made with some legitimacy. The verification of experiences across case studies enabled the researchers to provide the study schools with information about consistency of practice, the experiences of individuals and the impact upon identified needs illuminated by exemplars.

    Findings and discussion

    Dyson et al (2002) (op.cit) cited a lack of clear definition of Extended Schools as an issue which might impact upon cohesion of service provision. The questionnaire responses from staff in the two schools did reveal some interesting anomalies with regards to this matter. When asked to define the purpose of the Extended School system, not surprisingly, staff in positions of senior and middle management, including heads of year appeared to have a clarity which enabled them to articulate what they believed the school was offering over and above that which was available in other schools. Similarly, they were confident in defining procedures, such as referral of students and the role of other professional colleagues and could provide examples of how these had worked in relation to specific individuals. Other staff were less assured in their responses with 23% of respondents admitting that they were unsure of the purpose of Extended Schools and a further 2.5% offering no response. The reasons for this discrepancy may be many, but interrogation of the data does enable some suggestions to be made. Referral systems in the schools demand that action is taken by heads of year following concerns expressed by form tutors or subject teachers. It is therefore the heads of year who have the most direct contact with the family workers and other professional agencies who may become directly involved in intervention. One might therefore anticipate that the heads of year would be more knowledgeable than other staff. The data does reveal this to be the case and further indicates that teachers relatively new to teaching were less likely to be sure of the functions of an Extended School. With no previous school teaching experience some of these teachers assumed that the range of services and facilities in place were likely to be the norm for all schools. Whereas it is clear that other schools within the Local Authority in which the two study schools operate do not have such easy and extensive access to these facilities. Amongst the non-teaching staff who responded to the survey whilst aware that the Extended School Pilot was in operation, many such as school administrators had limited understanding as to its focus or intent, though they were generally aware of the facilities, such as homework clubs, which were being provided.

    Professional colleagues from other agencies when interviewed were able to discuss the services and facilities provided through the school not only in terms of their own role, but often with direct reference to others from a range of agencies. Whilst the concept of an Extended School as defined by the Department for Education and Skills was seldom expressed by these professionals many had no doubt that the changes within the school had impacted upon service delivery and that they felt that they were part of a more cohesive team.

    " I mean, certainly one of the benefits of the Extended Schools that I can see is the fact that it gives you the ability to develop relationships with key members of staff, where you can happily exchange information knowing that it’s not going to be misused."

    Community Police Officer

    "For me the difference has been it has been being part of a team in the sense of the planning and feedback is much more thorough, much smoother and the ease of communication is obviously there both through regular planned meetings but also through accidental contact that when I am in school I will walk past somebody from one of the other agencies and we have got common concerns".

    Behaviour support teacher

    For some professionals being part of an Extended Schools Project had clearly had an impact upon their working practices. This related in part to being more familiar with the schools and their staff, understanding school procedures and feeling an increased familiarity with students.

    "Yes, it has really because you could argue from a cold education and welfare point of view that I have been present at many meetings when children are being discussed who are not actually on my caseload but my argument is that by getting to know the school as a whole and particularly the most vulnerable students I am pre preparing myself for if any of the problems that they may be facing spill over and become attendance problems so I know a lot of students who are within the cohort of those who are being, who are accessing the Extended Schools system, who are not attendance problems but who know me because I have been part of that team and I think that is valuable because it is helping to take a more holistic view of problems rather than just seeing myself as attendance in isolation because it is never isolation."

    Education Welfare Officer

    The role of the family worker was seen as a key component of enabling the schools to meet their aims established under the Extended Schools Project. This important position, located within each school but line managed by a senior social worker from outside forms a critical interface between service users and service providers. The staff questionnaire revealed that family liaison was seen as a strength of the schools and was a service rarely offered by other comprehensive schools. Furthermore, when interviewed, professionals, students and parents/carers often cited the family worker as crucial to meeting the school aims. Indeed there is clear evidence that but for the intervention of the family worker and the close liaison established with the schools and other professionals, many families in stress would be unable to cope with a range of pressures. Parents/carers were often adamant that the role of the family worker had major benefits for both their children and themselves.

    " Well what it was is my son, he wouldn’t open up to no-one, he wouldn’t talk to no-one. But (the family worker) managed to get through to him and it did, although it took a while with him, she did get through to him and he did find it helpful with her… I mean, you know, he wasn’t seeing her like every week but she was there if he needed her and he did seem to open up to her, and at the moment one of my other children sees (the family worker) just on – it could be every month or so, just to see that she is alright, if she has got any problems in school. And (the family worker) has helped her to sort out a few things as well. So to me the whole project was really helpful because without it I didn’t know where else to go."

    Parent/carer

    "(The family worker) has actually stopped me from going around the bend, you know, she has phoned me and sat and listened to me yawn on, you know about all my worries and I have felt 100% better after, just knowing there is somebody on the other end of the phone who will give me an ear, you know? And that is brilliant."

    Parent/carer

    The positive views of the family worker expressed by parents/carers were invariably re-iterated by students, many of whom spoke of social interventions which had impacted on their lives outside of school.

    "She gave me lots of support when I needed it when my mum was in hospital – shopping, transport with taxis and all that, and she helped me really, gave me advice and stuff, she helped me."

    Student

    Others expressed a view that the intervention of a family worker had enabled them to change their behaviour and perform differently in school.

    "Well, something she said to me, it stopped me being naughty, she was saying that there is no point in shouting back at teachers, ‘cause at the end of the day you are going to go home and you are going to be right upset with thinking about it, but they are going to go home and laugh about it, sit down nice and warm and forget about it next morning. Just going to be laughing about it. It is you that is going to get into trouble for it, so that stopped me mouthing back at teachers, ‘cause I don’t want teachers to feel good about having a go at me."

    Student

    When asked about the impact of the Extended School Project upon the ways in which they conducted themselves professionally teachers were of the opinion that it had little effect upon their role in the classroom. The questionnaire indicated that 52% of staff saw no impact upon their practice, with a further 10% offering no response. In interviews, teachers suggested that their classroom teaching had not changed as a result of the project and that in most respects being part of an Extended School was put to the back of their minds. However, several teachers did comment that an advantage of being in an Extended School was that they were able to ‘put a face’ to named professionals from other services who might otherwise be no more than a name. Similarly, they felt confident that should a student in their charge face any kind of crisis there would be support immediately to hand.

    "I suppose it does influence me in so far as I know that there are people working alongside myself who can support me, who have got, who may be specialists, have a specialism which they can deal with the issues I cannot deal with. So I think that is a big influence on myself and the way, you know, the way I work."

    Teacher

    What can case studies show?

    In order to provide a commentary upon the efficacy of the two Extended Schools in this study eight case studies (four for each school) were constructed around individual students who had experienced difficulties which had required intervention from a range of professionals managed through the schools. For each pupil case notes were studies and interviews conducted with the student, their parent/carer and each professional who had been involved in interventions. Interview transcripts were analysed to make comparisons using a context chart (Miles and Huberman 1994). This process allowed the researchers to identify actions which had been initiated in each case and to establish commonalities as indicators of critical practice. Actions taken were directly related to the impact which these were perceived to have had upon the lives of the students and their families. Positive initiatives were recorded and considered in respect of each case and compared across cases.

    Across the case studies a number of factors can be seen to have had a significant impact upon the lives of students at risk and their families. These were:

  • The early identification of student difficulties by the school
  • In each case the school had reacted immediately a student or family problem became apparent. Early contact with families, often prior to conversations with other professionals was seen by parents/carers as an indication of care and respect.

  • Intervention of a family worker who maintained links and often worked as an intermediary between all parties.
  • The family worker played a critical role and was often seen by parents/carers as being associated with the school though not part of the school. This independence was essential in enabling parents/carers to build trust in the family worker with individuals often prepared to talk to the family worker when they would not engage with others. The family workers also commanded great respect amongst professionals from other agencies and the teachers in the schools. They were thus able to act in a direct intermediary capacity between parties in the knowledge that they were trusted by all.

  • Direct contact with the family worker by students and families often precluding the necessity for direct contact with other professionals (though indirect support provided by these was also important).
  • At times there were tensions between families and the schools or between families and professionals from other agencies. In the case studies constructed, through seeking the advice and opinions of a range of professionals the family worker was often able to manage intervention and support by proxy. This enabled support to be maintained in situations where, as a result of tensions or lack of trust, it may well have broken down.

  • Swift response of professional agencies and their ability to channel support through the school.
  • Personal relationships between professionals from a range of agencies who had gained familiarity through the schools enabled for a more personal and often more rapid response than had previously been possible. Professionals who were regularly within the school got to know students and staff and had a clearer overview of situations which encouraged and enabled an effective response to requests for intervention.

  • Flexible school systems which recognised family and student stress and could be amended to accommodate difficulties over issues such as attendance
  • Both schools demonstrated a willingness to see difficulties from the perspective of students and families. This meant that when requests were made for greater flexibility the schools were sympathetic and had effective channels for discussion with parents/carers. This was seen in several of the cases with regards to students returning to school following periods of absence related to tensions between home and school or family stresses. The schools were effective in setting clear parameters and sticking to these but in a manner which showed a willingness to see the perspectives of others.

  • Professionals from other agencies willing to use school as a meeting place with parents/carers as opposed to (for example) social services offices.
  • In the case studies and through several other examples, parents/carers cited the school as a meeting place as an important factor in accessing essential services. Attending social services buildings or mental health facilities was seen as an indication of failure or a problem and was seen to bear an unacceptable stigma by many families. Visiting school was perceived as acceptable as all young people go to school and parents regularly visit for a range of reasons. In all cases the schools and other agencies had been responsive to the notion of a school as a focus for meetings with families.

    Conclusions

    The study reported here was small in scale and cannot be seen to provide a representative picture of Extended Schools. The limitations of a paper of this nature is such that we have also chosen not to address issues surrounding breakfast or homework clubs or holiday activities. These latter services provided by schools have become a common feature of many schools today and whilst undoubtedly worthy of analysis and discussion are beyond the scope of this paper. The intention of this paper was to provide insights into some of the features of two Full-Service Extended Schools and their impact upon the lives of students families and professionals. As such it is possible to conclude that over the course of a year the research did reveal effective mechanisms and procedures which are supportive of young people at risk. The additional resources within the schools, notably the family workers, school nurses and CAFTS professionals have increased confidence in school staff, students and families. The evidence collected through interviews show an overwhelming support for the inter-agency work which is based in the school and the case studies and interviews provide data which indicates a positive impact.

    Many of the questions surrounding Extended Schools remain. The sustainability of services, issues surrounding the conditions of service of professionals working in different agencies and ensuring that all parties increase their awareness of the purpose and aims of the service are all matters which were revealed during the course of the research. However, it is clear to the researchers involved in this project that many young people and families have benefited greatly from the services put into place. It is equally apparent that the development of schools as a conduit through which such services can be channelled has been welcomed by professionals and families alike. The government intention is to increase the numbers of Extended Schools over the next few years. It is to be hoped that more students and families will benefit from the approach as it continues to develop and faces attempts to address the challenges ahead.

    References

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    Dyson, A., Millward, A, and Todd, L. (2002) A Study of Extended Schools Demonstration Projects. London: Department for Education and Skills.

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    Acknowledgement

    The authors wish to acknowledge the work on commitment of their two colleagues Saira Ali and Tony Gray who worked as co-researchers on this project.

    Address for correspondence

    Professor Richard Rose
    Centre for Special Needs Education and Research
    University of Northampton
    Park Campus
    Boughton Green Road
    Northampton NN2 7AL
    UK
    Richard.Rose@northampton.ac.uk
     

    This document was added to the Education-Line database on 22 September 2006