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Cluster city can't wait

Glasgow councillors are set to approve an ambitious plan to extend new learning communities (NLCs) across the city within the next year.

Another 20 communities, based on each secondary school working in a cluster with pre-five centres and primary schools, will be brought into the programme along with the existing nine by March next year.

The plan had been to phase in the programme over several years, but Richard Barron, depute director of education, said in a report to the city's education committee yesterday (Thursday) that the change of tack was a recognition that schools are increasingly using "cluster" approaches to implement new initiatives.

A total of pound;5.3 million has been earmarked for the project until 2006, but Mr Barron said the council is confident of securing cash from the fund set up to implement the Scottish Executive's national priorities in education.

Steps will now be taken to select principals to take charge of the learning communities, drawn from the existing headteachers in each cluster. They will be in place for the next school session in August and will be on a five-year contract instead of three-year appointments.

Glasgow pioneered the concept of learning communities which it has now amalgamated with the Executive's integrated community school approach. The city believes the initiative holds the key to bringing schools closer to their communities and enlisting support from health and social work agencies.

The community orientation also aims to bring in cultural and leisure services, the police, careers officials and the voluntary sector.

Eastbank Academy has been one of the leading proponents of new learning communities. One example of a key change is its child and family support team. This involves staff from pre-five, primary and secondary education, social work, youth development, child and adolescent psychiatry, educational psychology, guidance, health and the police.

This integrated team attempts to ensure that pupils do not slip through the net and that there is a move to the "one-file child", Ann Pettigrew, Eastbank's depute head, states.

Eric Wilkinson, professor of education at Glasgow University, who has been monitoring the programme to date, says that the main issue now is whether rolling out the programme within a year can be adequately resourced and supported.

"Our research has shown that to varying degrees there has been more joint working between agencies, staff are more engaged with new ideas and there has been some impact on the curriculum," Professor Wilkinson says.

"The next stage is to look at the more qualitative issues such as what the impact of new learning communities has been on social inclusion and pupils'

attainment."

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