Offering opportunity through extended school hours

A London school is trying to ensure young people have a broad range of experiences and a sense of community by extending its school hours.

schoolgirls taking notes in class

 

Would it help you if your secondary school offered your children activities from 7am to 7pm for just £10 a week with no strings attached?

It’s likely many parents would say yes to this question, given all the logistical problems involved in pick-ups, the impact on the hours you might be able to work and the guilt and worry associated with leaving your children to their own devices for several hours after school until you get home from work or can clock off.

One school has gone ahead and piloted an initiative to do just that. All Saints Catholic College in London’s Notting Hill is offering year seven and eight students the opportunity to get to school earlier or stay later, with homework help, sports and arts activities and a sit-down meal together all provided.

The pilot came out of concerns that many young people were missing out on extracurricular activities due to the rising cost of these, the escalating cost of living and cutbacks of free or subsidised activities. Around half of the students at the school are on free school meals, despite living in a fairly affluent area. “We want to ensure our students get access to the best quality provision inside and outside the classroom,” says Deputy head teacher Oonagh Brett, adding that private school students have a range of extracurricular activities on offer.

The head teacher, Andrew O’Neill, was also worried about young people’s mental health, having read Jonathan Haidt’s The Anxious Generation, a book about the psychological, social and physical consequences of a phone-based childhood. Young people said they would like to take part in more activities and some said they felt lonely going home to an empty house until their parents got home from work. One student said it was just ‘me, myself and my phone’ when they got home.  The activities also allow the school to be about more than academic work and targets. “It makes them feel part of a community,” says Brett.

Engaging parents

The school started the pilot with a soft launch offering taster sessions to get the kids on board as they knew parents would be happier to pay for extra hours at school if their children were in favour. Parental engagement is key and the school has continued to implement regular monthly check-ins with parents by their form tutors since Covid. “We want to make sure we can support them,” says Brett.

While after school clubs are common for younger children, Brett says they are often one of the things that get cut due to rising living costs. Moreover, while the school has always had a breakfast club, which starts at 7.45am, opening earlier allows those who are hanging around waiting for school to start to have somewhere to go and someone to talk to.

Opportunities for all

The pilot is funded mainly by the school, but with some support from the council and charity as the £10 a week that parents pay doesn’t cover the full cost. Brett recognises that scaling it will be difficult given many schools face financial difficulties, but she says the head teacher’s approach is to test things out to see what the full benefits are and then review it. 

Another issue is staffing the programme. School staff, including teachers, are currently helping to run the pilot with external support. This is wholly on a voluntary basis. Brett says some enjoy doing things they don’t usually do in class with the kids, for instance, playing rounders. It helps to build relationships, she states. And, of course, the facilities and space are on tap. 

The extended school pilot will be reviewed after 10 weeks, with things such as attendance rates, engagement, punctuality and focus in class among the data being looked at. Parental feedback is also important. Already one single mum of a child with special needs has said the scheme means she can apply for different work as her hours are less restricted. “For her it has been life-changing,” says Brett.

Brett says that some of the press coverage has presented the extended school as the school forcing children to stay at school for 12 hours, which is not the case at all. The scheme is voluntary and young people who do take part do not have to attend every day. Several do after-school clubs and may join later for the communal meal, for instance. 

“We want to give young people the chance to be able to have as many opportunities at school as possible. We want them to be able to leave with a sense of their best possible selves and an awareness of the fullness of life,” says Brett.



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