Cash lifeline for kids in crisis

14th May 2004 at 01:00
David Henderson and Neil Munro report from the Catholic headteachers' annual conference in Crieff

The Education Minister has signalled his intention to provide money to headteachers so they can buy in services to support troubled youngsters in the community as well as at school.

Peter Peacock told Catholic secondary heads meeting at Crieff that he wanted to "gear up" integrated community schools because "school for many children is the only stable part of their lives". Schools had to be used in a much more constructive way, Mr Peacock said.

"I would like to see the voluntary sector involved much more, people like Barnardos who can work in and around schools, bringing integrated packages for individual children. This would bring services into the school and I think we need to do much more about that," he said.

Mr Peacock told The TES Scotland: "Pupils who exhibit significant behavioural difficulties in school will almost certainly have difficulties at home. So I would like to be able to pilot some approaches which will provide schools with extra funds to help them address the problems of the whole child, both in school and in the home environment."

Mr Peacock has seen at first hand the work Barnardos does, and is particularly impressed. Projects include a community project in Edinburgh to keep pupils in school who are at risk of exclusion and Blackford Brae School in the city which works with pupils who have already been excluded.

Success rates have been impressive. Of 56 youngsters in 1999-2002 who received community support, 45 were able to remain in mainstream classes.

Of the 76 who left Blackford Brae School between 1992 and 1999, 63 per cent returned to mainstream schools - after a year, four out of five were still there.

Buying in such services could save money in the long run. A study last year into the Crannog project run by Aberlour Child Care Trust on behalf of Dumfries and Galloway estimated that it may have saved the council pound;1 million by intervening with excluded youngsters who could otherwise have been placed in expensive residential schools. Intensive one-to-one work is the secret of its success, the trust believes.

At the conference, Tom Burnett, head of St Mungo's Academy, Glasgow, pleaded with the Education Minister for a massive media campaign to change the approach to learning. If advertising worked to change attitudes to drink driving, it could work for learning.

"A problem faced by many schools in inner city areas is the lack of a culture of learning in the community the school serves and I think we need some assistance. Cultures can be changed when governments put their mind to it," Mr Burnett said.

Mr Peacock acknowledged that underachievement was a problem in many areas blighted by poverty, drugs and antisocial behaviour. Many families had "chaotic" lives. That was one reason ministers were investing in integrated community schools and placing schools at the centre.

The focus on pre-school education places and programmes like SureStart were similarly targeted at these issues.

The Education Minister used his address to underline the Scottish Executive's key themes and reiterated the principle of excellence in all schools. His second theme was constant improvement and his third was looking at individual children in the round. Services had to be structured around the consumers, not the professionals.

Greater choice, flexibility and individuality was his fourth priority, as reflected in the forthcoming 3-18 curriculum review. This would emphasise that schools should be encouraged "to go beyond certain boundaries".

Mr Peacock acknowledged that some schools were frightened of being adventurous because of the threat of a negative inspection report but he said he was now working closely with HMI on this issue. He repeated that he wanted a "light touch" approach to personal learning plans which were not intended to be a bureaucratic burden on teachers.

He reminded his audience that the Labour and Liberal Democrat administration had sought to tackle long-standing problems of underfunding in key areas during its first term, including lack of investment in teacher salaries, school buildings and early years education. The legislative framework was also tightened up via the 2000 Act which placed the focus on the individual child.

Mr Peacock said ministers were injecting pound;2 billion in school buildings over the next five to 10 years. "By any standards that is a huge investment and will bring new technology to schools that we have not seen before. When I was convener in Highland Council we had something like pound;3 million a year for 200 schools," he said.

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