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Schools still fail the community

THE IDEAL of schools reaching out to their communities has yet to depart the realms of rhetoric, according to a study commissioned by the Scottish Office.

The study, said to be the first major project in Scotland to examine the relationship between schools and community education, found that "very little collaborative practice was reported by schools" and that "most of the community education service managers did not consider schools to be the key players in community education".

Most of the collaboration reported by schools centred on the formal curriculum and involved other schools. "Only one-fifth of all school collaborative activity was undertaken with non-school agencies such as community groups, local authority community education services and voluntary agencies," the report states.

"Overall schools were least likely to encourage members of the community to participate in decision-making in the school; even where members of the community were involved in school governance and management, this tended to be more representative than participative."

The connection which the overwhelming majority of schools had with community education was by providing accommodation. "The provision of such links was designed to enhance, or at least not disturb, the school's core business of educating children," the researchers report.

They also note the "competing professional cultures" which inhibit collaboration, suggesting that joint training may break down barriers.

Case studies in 10 schools unearthed tensions between potential partners. Schools that provided adult education, for example, were torn between those committed primarily to academic achievement and those aiming to increase the involvement of the wider community.

Projects involving home, school and community links also threw up differing perspectives on parental involvement. Some schools expected parents to take more interest in their children's learning if they acted as unpaid classroom helpers, while others concentrated on the actual learning needs of the parents.

The report argues that schools which develop better links with the community at large will have a broader curriculum and gain access to a wider range of skills and expertise.

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