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All seven are now included

WEST Dunbartonshire has become the first council to declare itself a "new community schools authority".

Last week's council meeting agreed that all seven secondary schools and their associated primaries should be included in the initiative, after assurances of Government support.

Braidfield High in Clydebank and its primaries are already one of the five Scottish "pathfinder" projects testing out the principle of bringing together a variety of professionals within schools to support families as well as their children. The authority says it has reduced pupil exclusions by more than 50 per cent in just over a year.

Council leader Andy White said: "In the past the needs of the child and the needs of their families have been dealt with separately. People have not always known where to go to get the services they need, and services have been replicated by different agencies."

West Dunbartonshire's plan aims to co-ordinate education, health, family support, careers guidance and social work.

The Braidfield High project has been allocated pound;200,000 a year

for three years to lay the foundations, including the appointment of key staff. The Scottish Executive has now agreed to a further one-off payment of pound;200,000 to kick-start the extension of new community schools across the authority, backed byanother pound;100,000 a year for three years.

West Dunbartonshire will dovetail its new community schools with those which are receiving special support in the form of "education action plans". These are the school clusters based on Dumbarton Academy, Clydebank High and St Andrew's High in Clydebank, which are receiving pound;500,000 over three years to improve their performance.

That leaves three of the council's secondaries and their primaries to be included in the extended scheme: St Columba's High in Clydebank; Vale of Leven Academy in Alexandria, and Our Lady and St Patrick's in Dumbarton.

Ian McMurdo, the director of education, says the new arrangements "will provide consistency and fairness across the authority's schools and should therefore command a considerable degree of credibility and ownership."

Danny McCafferty, the education convener, said: "It's about providing services which recognise the importance of social and emotional circumstances in the educational development of our children."

The Executive's excellence fund is committing pound;26 million to develop new community schools, aimed at launching two pilot projects in each education authority by April 2001. The first phase has involved 30 authorities running 37 projects in more than 150 schools, nurseries and family centres.

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