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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 October, 2003, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
More than just a school
By offering pupils and their parents access to social and health services, Greenfield School Community and Arts College in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, is ahead of the game.

By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News Online education staff

Greenfield School
Greenfield is a "full service" school
Looking out over rolling countryside, Greenfield School lives up to its name - but the impression is deceptive.

Much of the school's catchment area is rated as being in the most deprived 5% in England and much of the rest in the most deprived 10%.

This naturally brings with it the usual range of social ills - abuse, domestic violence and psychiatric problems to name but a few.

Teachers at the school can often find themselves acting as unofficial social workers and counsellors.

Head teacher Mike Thornton recalls having three feuding families on site, with teachers called upon to resolve the dispute.

Mike Thornton
Mike Thornton: A man with a vision
"We've got teachers on the sharp end who are often dealing with the social issues and when you get inconsistencies with social services - through staff changeover and so on - the school becomes a point of stability for the community," he says.

Mr Thornton has worked at the school for over 15 years. He saw that it had to offer something more to the community if it was ever to improve the life chances of pupils.

A vision

His vision was to turn the school into a "one-stop family support centre" which offered pupils - and the wider community - access to health and social services and an informal, as well as formal, education.

Now the school has opened a special area where pupils can come and chat in confidence to a counsellor, a nurse, an education welfare officer and a Connexions advisor.

The project, called Reach, has helped 166 pupils - 29% of the school population - since it opened in January.

It's brilliant, it's someone to talk to when there's no-one else to talk to if you're upset
Sarah, 16
The 11 to 16 year olds seek help on a range of issues from bullying to anger management, from self esteem to body image.

Thirteen-year-old Justine comes to the centre when she is upset and has problems at home.

"My attendance at school has improved. The education welfare officer made me feel happier and I came to school more," she said.

"Before I used to be off loads because I was bullied but it's fine now and the person who bullied me is now a friend."

Someone to talk to

Sixteen-year old Sarah has a similar story to tell of improved attendance at lessons.

"I'm diabetic and I come up and see the nurse. It's brilliant, it's someone to talk to when there's no-one else to talk to if you're upset," she said.

school sign
The school offers a range of services
For the teaching staff, the "one-stop" approach means issues can be tackled a lot quicker and for the team of professionals based at the school, the arrangement allows them to build up better relationships with the pupils.

"It's consistency - it's the same face for the pupils and parents," said education welfare officer Tracy Lindsay.

"And all the glitches in terms of multi-agency services are ironed out because it's a team effort."

Tackling disaffection

For those pupils at greatest risk of disaffection, Greenfield has a special social inclusion base called Ican.

"It doesn't stand for anything - it's just I can achieve, attend lessons, get on with others and all those sorts of things," says Jill Burdis, manager of the unit.

Jill Burdis
Jill Burdis plans to take the message out on a bus
The Ican base offers a more practical timetable for teenagers and runs interactive programmes such as conflict resolution, anger management, social skills and team building.

"This is for those children most at risk of issues such as teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, truancy, self-harm, offending and so on," said Mrs Burdis.

"There's a common denominator in terms of where they live, their background, their reading age and whether they have free school meals."

The base also works with local primary schools, primarily to identify and help those pupils most likely to fall by the wayside in the transition between primary and secondary school.

Since April, the Ican team has been working with parents and the new group calls itself Wecan.

"We saw that some parents were at their wits' end - coping with bereavement, debt, someone in prison - and we asked if they wanted an adults' group and they said yes."

Parents have access to childcare when attending sessions
One of the parents is now paid to work in the school one day a week as a mentor.

"We're going to hire a bus in November to get the message across and try and recruit parents from elsewhere, parents who may be most in need," said Mrs Burdis.

Baby boogie

Greenfield also reaches out to the local community through its art centre, which opened in 2000 and offers a range of adult education courses as well as childcare.

The building is used by 2,000 people a month and 435 learners are signed up for classes this term.

"We have daytime adult learning provision, so we can offer free childcare to enable adults to access learning opportunities," says community arts co-ordinator JoAnne Mason.

"Parents can use the childcare to go to Wecan sessions and some have gone on to do childcare training here and then have gone on to work here."

art gallery
The art gallery has bookings until 2006
The centre is part of the school, but this part of the building has its own entrance.

"We recognise there are some very fragile adults who would be too daunted to go to a school entrance and full of preconceptions about how bad it would be.

"So we're breaking down as many barriers as possible, be that the physical environment, childcare, financial concerns et cetera."

The centre's dance studio is in use from nine in the morning until nine at night; sessions include music for babies, baby boogie, yoga, dance drama for adults with disabilities and youth dance groups.

An art gallery offers local artists the chance to exhibit their work for three weeks at a time - the space is fully booked until 2006.

"The beauty of this joined-up approach is that we all have the same interests at heart, which is the welfare of the children and the community of Newton Aycliffe," said Ms Mason.

The way forward

The concept of the "full service school" or "extended school" emerged in the United States in the early 1980s with the aim of breaking the culture of failure that disadvantages many young people.

In September the government announced plans to create 61 extended schools and, by 2006, it wants all of England's 150 local education authorities to have at least one of them.

"It offers a better service to children and their parents and it frees up teachers to get on with what teachers are supposed to do - it's not rocket science," said Greenfield head, Mike Thornton.

After years of working towards his vision of what the school could become, Mr Thornton said everything was now coming together.

And the school's much improved GCSE/GNVQ results - 53.5% of pupils got at least five passes at the higher grades in 2003, compared to 36% last year - would bear testimony to that.

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