An independent review by the inspectorate seven years into the life of what started as new community schools confirms previous research findings that the high-profile Scottish Executive initiative lacks hard evidence of short-term success (TESS, last week).
Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector, in HMI's report on integrated community schools (ICS) published this week, notes various examples of good practice in interprofessional working and teamwork for the benefit of children and families but concludes that the evidence of successful work is patchy.
"We have, for example, yet to see evidence of significant gains in overall levels of attainment in schools. Too often the approach adopted operated in isolation from mainstream activity without the right kind of leadership and vision at senior levels.
"There remains a considerable way to go to transform how schools and other children's services work together to achieve significantly improved outcomes for all children," Mr Donaldson states in a frank assessment.
Bill Maxwell, senior inspector responsible for social inclusion, said the findings echoed those in the London University analysis last year and in the Stirling University report on progress in Stirling Council. But Dr Maxwell added: "This is not an end point, it's a staging post."
Bart Biagini, the report's lead inspector, said that many initiatives would take time to prove themselves, such as changing children's attitudes to health and supporting the most vulnerable pupils and their families.
So far, evidence of positive practice was "uneven in the clusters and across clusters and in authorities and across authorities". Good examples were found in schools where partners have a shared vision and values, where they have clear lines about roles and responsibilities, and where they have invested in joint staff training.
Some authorities were also starting to look at the bigger picture on children's services and linking partners.
"One of the barriers to making an overall evaluation of the impact is that it is sometimes difficult to get measures against which you can establish a baseline and show measures of improvement. That is particularly the case in areas like health," Mr Biagini said.
But he added: "There is still some way to go if the main aim of the original concept of the school - being the hub through which better integrated services for children and young people could be delivered through health, education and social work - was to be achieved."
Too many authorities and schools lacked the vision to make a success of what was now becoming a concept rather than an initiative. A shortage of key staff, including social workers, is said to be damaging advances.
Short-term contracts, part-time appointments and vacancies hindered effective working.
"There is still to be a consistent impact in the classroom on learning and teaching but we are actually beginning to see signs, particularly in terms of out-of-school learning, of the positive impact on supporting the achievement of young people," Mr Biagini stated.
Inspectors conclude that the initiative has acted as a catalyst for joint working but that no local authority and NHS partnership has implemented all of the features in the original plans.
Leader 22 The sum of its parts? The development of integrated community schools in Scotland is published by HMIE.