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School board urged at Hailesland

The evaluation by Edinburgh education officials of Hailesland primary has highlighted the absence of a school board as one of the reasons for poor communications between parents and the school's management.

Four families withdrew their children on November 1 claiming that discipline had broken down. The final straw was an alleged sexual assault on an 11-year-old girl by a boy. This followed an incident last month when a boy left the nursery class unnoticed and started walking home alone. Staff have now been reminded of child protection guidelines.

Douglas Duff, headteacher at Hailesland primary for 23 years, has resigned on medical grounds and Ronnie Summers, head of the neighbouring Sighthill primary, has taken temporary charge.

A full report on the crisis at the school, approved by the council's consultative group on educational standards, has urged "a proactive approach in establishing a school board at the earliest opportunity". In the meantime the authority wants a forum set up as a matter of priority so parent views can be "sought and expressed".

The confidential report draws attention repeatedly to problems caused by having to consult parents "through informal channels", a sure sign that the Government's much-contested regime of school boards is now regarded as an essential ingredient of a well-run school, even by Labour councils.

The evaluation of the 256-pupil school is highly complimentary about a great deal of the teaching but pulls no punches in identifying weak leadership by the former head and his depute, who is currently on sick leave. It notes that while teachers may have been accessible to parents, this was not true of senior management. "A system should be put in place to record, monitor, and feed back on parental concerns and complaints," the report states.

The investigators, from the education department's quality assurance section, pay diplomatic tribute to Mr Duff's "long experience" but add that he immersed himself in administration at the expense of everything else. He took little interest in curricular planning, staff and pupil support or contact with the outside world. The new head is expected to "adopt a prominent leadership role, aimed at creating confidence with staff, pupils and parents".

It has also emerged that educational psychologists and welfare services were conspicuous by their absence. The report states: "At present there is insufficient information available to teaching staff about the range and type of support which can be made available and staff are unclear about referral procedures. It is a matter of concern that there is a relatively low level of pupil referrals from the school, that the educational psychologist is seldom asked for advice nor invited to offer training for staff in behaviour management." The report is also scathing about the depute's role. She did not adequately fulfil her remit for visiting classrooms to check on the quality of the teaching, and forward plans submitted by class teachers were not "the subject of regular dialogue". The two senior teachers should have been given more free time to act as the first line of support for classroom colleagues.

Teachers are described as supporting each other effectively and showing great commitment. They provided a broad experience for pupils and there was good pupil differentiation in the nursery and early years, where the emphasis on literacy is commended. The main problems occurred in P4-P7 with poor motivation and concentration.

A generally "positive" climate in the school was achieved in the face of "very variable" staff morale that was "extremely low" in some cases, the report states. "It is clear that there has been insufficient, consistent support from the management team, particularly the headteacher. It is considered essential that the management of the school address as a matter of priority the support of staff, ensuring that staff are aware of counselling facilities and staff development opportunities."

Charges of incoherence and inconsistency appear again in the findings relating to pupil discipline. Parents and staff had conflicting views on the extent of bullying but the authority's verdict is that it should be regarded as a significant issue even if confined to a minority of pupils.

The report simply notes that parrents found the head unresponsive to their worries about classroom discipline and the council now says that a positive behaviour programme is now being spread throughout the school.

The Hailesland saga will push school management once again to the top of the agenda. The Scottish Office is mounting a major drive for improvements following the finding in the Inspectorate's Standards and Quality report that a quarter of primaries and a fifth of secondaries had "important weaknesses" in leadership.

That means 665 Scottish schools under unsatisfactory management.

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