"COLD, hard facts" about the performance of vulnerable children will be critical in assessing the future of new community schools, the Children and Education Minister told the conference.
Sam Galbraith said: "New community schools probably reflects in a classic way what this Government stands for. We have to ensure that absolutely every child achieves their full potential. The way we do that for many children who have in the past been neglected and excluded from our society is through new community schools."
As a scientist, however, he would expect a "rigorous assessment" of developments to prove the benefits to socially excluded children and families. "It's no good having initiatives, saying they are good ideas and letting them run. We have to evaluate everything we do to ensure we are achieving what we set out to do. We are therefore finalising a framework for a national evaluation of this initiative."
Any analysis would complement local authority assessments of progress. However, several council staff involved questioned the ability to isolate particular factors when new community school initiatives involved a range of projects and agencies. Other developments, such as early intervention, also had an impact.
Mr Galbraith recognised that intervention at pre-school stages could be too late for some children. "We have to start with support for vulnerable families with young children," he suggested.
He further emphasised a special concern for "looked-after" children. "As a group they are disproportionately at higher risk of social exclusion, not least because of poor educational attainment. We need to change that," he said.
Mr Galbraith backed local experiments in how to run new community schools - "a concept whose time has come" - and professionals developing ownership of their initiatives. "I have always been against great masterplans handed down from the top which everyone has to follow," he said.
The Scottish Executive is injecting pound;26 million into new community schools over three years to revamp traditional services for families most in need, raise attainment and promote social inclusion. About 150 schools in 30 local authorities are involved. Some are in single schools, others in clusters.
The key, the Government says, is integrated provision of education, social work, family support and health education.