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Schools of Ambition project held up as example of how to share best practice

DVD and booklet outlining lessons from initiative to be sent to all Scots schools to help them implement the new curriculum

DVD and booklet outlining lessons from initiative to be sent to all Scots schools to help them implement the new curriculum

The government is expecting teachers to absorb the lessons from the Schools of Ambition (SoA) programme to help them implement Curriculum for Excellence - despite scrapping the initiative inherited from its predecessor.

Hard on the heels of the announcement that the inspectorate is to be redirected to work with schools on the new curriculum during the first term of next session, a DVD and booklet entitled Leading Change, which outlines the lessons learned from SoA activities, is to be sent to every school in Scotland.

This dissemination is seen as fulfilling another undertaking in Education Secretary Michael Russell's 10-point CfE action plan, which is to share best practice among schools.

Keith Brown, the Skills and Lifelong Learning Minister, told a conference last week attended by representatives from some of the 58 schools that have taken part in the programme since it was set up in 2005: "The Schools of Ambition programme offers us a wealth of experiences and examples of where changes have been successfully implemented; therefore, it's important that these lessons are shared as widely as possible."

The SoA programme is credited with bringing about "transformational ways of thinking" in the schools involved. But that process was helped to a considerable extent by the pound;300,000 allocated to each of them during the three years they were in the programme. Schools took part at different times during its five years, at a cost of pound;16 million.

A report by HMIE, launched at last week's conference, acknowledged the importance of this ring-fenced funding which the Government's concordat with local councils has brought to an end. "The sustainability of projects . was dependent on the availability of longer-term funding," it states.

"Where schools made significant changes to their staffing to allow new initiatives to take place, they gave careful thought to how these changes could be sustained within future core budgets."

A key feature for many of the SoA schools was building leadership among staff and pupils so they could bring about change. Paul McLaughlin, the award-winning head of St Ninian's High in Kirkintilloch, said this was necessary "to transform learning".

The programme has clearly given the schools involved a head start in implementing CfE, as Queensferry High head Richard Birch confirmed: "We are now in a position that we have a culture where our staff are up for a challenge and are not afraid of it."

Another participant at the conference said: "Funding gave us the opportunity to try out managed risk and to see what worked. That's the most valuable thing being a School of Ambition did for us."

HMI Douglas Cairns said that the key to both SoA and CfE was "strong leadership, particularly in creating the freedom for staff to innovate". He continued: "The approach of the inspectorate is not that `innovation is permitted' but that `innovation is required': so it will be a case of us asking `whaur's yer innovation?'"

The review said a considerable number of the schools involved with the SoA project reported improvements in behaviour, attainment, skills acquisition, staying-on rates and continuing with education after school. Changes to the curriculum, including a "wider range of more relevant courses", were among the main factors.

neil.munro@tes.co.uk.

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