Investment raises great expectations;Conference

Neil Munro

Neil Munro reports on the new hope for change expressed by Glasgow's secondary heads at their conference last week.

CHANGE is firmly in the air in Glasgow's secondary schools, from alternative curricula for disaffected youngsters to the multi-million pound upgrading of the city's secondary stock. But heads seem excited rather than nervous, not least because they are beginning to see investment at last.

Ken Corsar, Glasgow's director of education, has worked hard to convince secondary heads that they "are part of the management of education in the city and not just the management of (their) own school".

Thus, as we reported last week, heis anxious that the authority, with heads should agree a comprehensive "improvement plan" based on the separate cash hand-outs available from the Government's comprehensive spending review. Mr Corsar believes these should be seen as a single package aimed at raising attainment and promoting inclusion, rather than a series of unrelated initiatives.

As evidence of the directorate's determination to keep headteachers on side, Mr Corsar and his entire senior team set aside almost two days last week to attend the heads' deliberations and arrange for a number of staff to make presentations.

The heads themselves appear to be responding to the new climate which is certainly helped by the appearance of Government "new deal" money and, in Glasgow's case, by "school closure" money. Some pound;7.6 million was invested in the council's primary and secondary schools last session, aimed at improving staffing standards and IT infrastructure. Another pound;4 million in savings from the rationalisation programme is expected next year. And the results of the spending review will provide a further pound;30 million over three years.

But heads also point to "more freedom to find solutions" than there was under Strathclyde. "Everyone is committed to shake off the problems of low attainment and sporadic attendance," Jim Dalziel, head of Eastbank Academy, says.

"Schools are given more discretion and are encouraged to find new answers to old problems. Guidelines now really are guidelines and if we can show we have alternative means of achieving the same results, providing we let the directorate know and explain why we are doing what we're doing, there is support.

"This more pragmatic and participative relationship avoids the ridiculous situation where you are marched up to the top of a particular hill and then swiftly marched back down again.

"I'm not suggesting that there is any carte blanche for mavericks. But, a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable that schools would have been allowed to go their own way in developing alternative curricula or departing from mixed-ability approaches. We don't feel we are working in a climate of fear."

Examples include Eastbank Academy being allowed to fill the modern languages slot for some third and fourth year pupils with extended personal and social education and additional basic skills work; a radically new curriculum at Castlemilk High (see below); and every primary 7 pupil linked to All Saints Secondary spending 12 weeks at the secondary on supported study covering art, music, science and technical subjects.

Leader, page 18

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Neil Munro

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