McConnell hails primary success

Neil Munro

The First Minister believes that Scotland's primary schools are "unrecognisable" from five years ago and are one of the major successes of his administration.

Jack McConnell says the community school approach has made "a real difference to attainment, achievement and ambition", particularly for primary pupils. The challenge is to extend this culture change to secondary schools, and to increase parent involvement.

Mr McConnell, interviewed in the current edition of the Children in Scotland magazine, singles out improvements in primary schools as one of his policy achievements, along with part-time nursery education for three and four-year-olds and the drive to ensure services for children work together.

But he stopped short of endorsing the move by the Chancellor in his spending review to extend the number of two-year-olds in part-time nursery education. Gordon Brown said that 12,000 youngsters in 500 areas would benefit. There would also be pound;100 million to open more children's centres in the most deprived communities in England.

Mr McConnell said that the Scottish Executive would consider a pilot scheme for two-year-olds, but it would be only one option. Others would be to extend existing provision for three and four-year-olds, perhaps converting some places from part-time to full-time, and to give more assistance to the most disadvantaged families.

He added: "There will always be a role for both targeted and universal services. I am a supporter of universal provision where it is an efficient and effective thing to do and we have done that through, for example, free fruit for schools.

The First Minister also makes clear he remains committed to the community approach to schooling, in contrast to the policy in England of establishing a variety of schools from which parents could choose.

The community approach had paid dividends in Scotland, he suggested, but he acknowledged that "a gap has developed between teachers and schools on one hand, and parents on the other".

Mr McConnell added: "Responsibility for initiating this change in culture should begin with the school. It's all very well criticising parents, but unless schools are welcoming places, unless they are proactive in engaging with parents, it cannot be achieved.

"Engaging parents is about more than occasional parents' nights, it is about the commitment of teachers to listening and involving parents in the work of the school as a whole - in-school and out-of-school activities."

Mr McConnell confirms he has no intention of letting up. "We need to look at further reforms that free up choice and opportunity inside schools and allow them to develop and stretch young people as far as they can be stretched."

The Executive is now signalling that its responses to forthcoming reports on overhauling the curriculum, assessment, teacher education and parent involvement may be far-reaching.

Bronwen Cohen, chief executive of Children in Scotland, who conducted the interview, said one of the challenges was to translate vision into services on the ground.

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Neil Munro

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