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On course to community in harmony

Professionals who learn together can build a team together, or so it's proving in Stirling. Eleanor Caldwell reports

Teachers may think they have trouble enough mastering the range of activities that fall to them, but many also now face the challenge of collaborating with other agencies.

New community schools embody the principle of multi-agency working and there are opportunities for continuing professional development as a result of the initiative. In Stirling, through co-operation with the Institute of Education at the university, teachers and other professionals have the opportunity to engage in two multi-disciplinary research courses which could comprise elements of an MEd or MSc degree or otherwise count as academic credits and certainly form part of a teacher's 35 hours a year CPD commitment.

Now in their second year, the two courses are targeted at all new community school professionals, including social workers, health workers, community education staff and teachers. Both take a work-based approach. In the action research unit, students identify a specific area for investigation and, using clearly defined research strategies, work through a structured problem-solving process. Although the research task is related directly to a work-based issue, the students also look at how the people from the other agencies operate. In the unit on inter-agency working, students are encouraged to take up work-shadowing opportunities, provided by the council, to learn how other professionals operate. This has already been done by teachers and social workers.

Julie Allan, reader in education at Stirling University and a course tutor, emphasises that teachers are encouraged to see themselves as researchers. They should be looking at everyday issues such as classroom disrution or the effectiveness of assessment. A current student is focusing on strategies for getting parents more involved with their children's schooling. Another is attempting to increase community involvement in children's learning.

Although findings from the students' research have been made available to Stirling Council, the main aim of the courses is the development of research skills in teachers and other colleagues. Such skills can then be applied to other school issues and within the school and departmental development plans.

Students take three training days and three study days out of school. They prepare an assignment based on their research and make a presentation to fellow students. The central principle is an evaluative and participatory approach to key questions, involving dialogue with relevant agencies.

Although teacher involvement so far has come predominantly from primary schools, Dr Allan hopes that as Stirling secondaries, such as Wallace High, Bannockburn High and St Modan's High, become integrated into the next phase of the new community schools initiative, teachers at all levels will sign up. Primary and pre-school teachers have been joined on the inter-agency courses by a physiotherapist, a community education worker, a further education lecturer in pre-school education and a full-time MEd student. Dr Allan says that the courses are drawing interest from undergraduate students as well.

Dr Allan is enthusiastic about the potential benefits of both courses within the context of new community schools. "It gives teachers an excellent new opportunity to work with a broad spectrum of professionals," she says.

Social workers and teachers in harmony? Progress indeed.

Enquiries about the courses to Julie Allan, tel 01786 467622

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