Classes set apart;Managing Schools

8th March 1996 at 00:00
John Lloyd examines the threat to funding of community schools

The era of the community high school could be at an end. Although the Labour Party claims to want to maximise community provision in secondary schools, its councillors in Scotland only envisage high schools with a community centre attached.

A model is Inverkeithing High in Fife, where the sports and leisure facilities are used by adults in the evening and a range of academic evening classes operates in tandem. However, that is not what I understand to be a community high school in the sense that such institutions were created in Lothian Region in the 1970s.

I have worked in just such a school, Inveralmond CHS in Livingston, for 15 years. Some of my pupils once tried to convince me that a ghost wandered around the corridors at night, that strange voices had been heard. I was able to dismiss the tale at once. Being one of Scotland's very few community high schools, it had one thing in common with the Windmill Theatre - it never closed.

Teaching a large, Standard grade modern studies evening class every Tuesday, flanked by large English and history classes, I knew full well that there would be no chance of a ghost getting any peace. The school was active every evening of the week and at the weekend.

What then is a community high school, and how is it different from what Labour is promoting? They were created because, for too long, schools had possessed equipment, resources and potential which were denied the community. Classrooms, science and language labs, assembly halls, drama theatres, games halls, swimming pools, dining halls and libraries were all locked up, the equipment put away, and it was impossible to get the keys and permission to enter.

A community high school is not one which takes all the school-age pupils from the neighbourhood or which has adults attending evening classes andor some selected day classes. It is a school which makes full use of the community in a socially relevant curriculum and sets out to serve the community, expecting a reciprocal service from the community.

It would be desirable to have a school which is purpose-built - with a library, canteen, swimming pool, theatrecinema, games hall, and creche, but that would be financially prohibitive. However, any school can be a community school if there is an effort to identify school and community in every aspect of the life of each for the better health of both.

That implies the involvement of many more adults. Many are attracted to the school by word of mouth, the school's own literature and adverts in the local papers. Others come into school to have their lunch or use the creche or chat in the warmth of the community lounge and, as they relax with teaching and non-teaching staff, adult students and sixth year, they learn about the whole range of courses for which they can enrol.

Having so many adults in the building has many spin-offs. It benefits discipline to have adult students around. It gives the school a more adult atmosphere which benefits the pupils in S5 and S6, whose emotional development often makes them rebel against the juvenile atmosphere of a large comprehensive school. It leads to a better teacherparent relationship and should improve liaison between home and school which can only be of value to guidance services. The experience of adult students enhances many an Higher grade discussion and senior pupils usually build up an excellent relationship with them and gain study skills. Significantly, the school gains much-needed finance.

As more adults, and indeed pupils, are encouraged to take part in the decision-making process, the school's potential will increase, with the community deciding which direction their school should take. In other nations, community schools offer creches for parents going shopping, as well as dining facilities, sports centres, coffee bars and even medical centres.

In Scotland communities may want more recreational facilities, as Scotland's lag behind other nations of comparative size. They may wish to bring social service within the curriculum and get more pupils involved with the old or disabled or mentally handicapped.

We used to believe that horizons would only be limited by a failure to attract adults. That explains why the teachers in the phase 1 community high schools have had such a rude awakening. The new unitary councils like West Lothian, which includes both Inveralmond CHS and Deans CHS, want the staff on the alternative contract to agree to give it up and accept what amounts to a compensation package.

Lothian has four phase 1 community high schools, all purpose-built in 1978-79. With such schools open 360 days of the year, and with teachers expected to work evenings or weekends, the alternative contract meant teachers were paid an addition to salary and given "time off in lieu" and there was extra staffing for adult education and youth and community work. However, by 1985, more schools became designated as community highs but Lothian felt the alternative contract was no longer essential. Indeed, in resource allocation terms, it was less than efficient.

Many ordinary schools now had adults in the classroom daytimes or evenings; while many staff in the phase 1 schools had to concentrate on mainstream daywork as staffing was squeezed and they were not available to teach in the evening. Furthermore, Lothian realised it would be more economic to employ a teacher on a separate contract for the evening work.

Another problem emerged in the 1980s. It seemed that many promoted staff in phase 1 community high schools were unwilling to apply for further promotion, which would have been in the best interest of both the authority and the career development of the teachers. By 1992, Lothian had 212 teachers on the alternative contract compared with 395 in 1982. Lothian felt it was no longer appropriate to continue with the contract.

Even though phase 1 schools would need additional funds, so as to employ additional staff on temporary contracts, the enhancement in the level of funding was to be less than the savings accruing from the withdrawal of the contract. The amount of compensation offered to the staff in 1992 proved insufficient and Lothian was advised not to phase out the alternative contract.

Last month Roger Stewart, corporate manager of West Lothian, addressed staff meetings at Deans and Inveralmond. West Lothian Council has instructed him to bring in a "spend and save" policy - this means the remaining staff on the alternative contract will be offered a lump sum as compensation. After five years, this would entail a huge saving to the taxpayers of West Lothian. In future, evening classes will be on a paid contract basis dependent on student uptake.

The offer is voluntary, though unpromoted staff are almost certain to accept as they may face transfer in years to come. About half the staff must accept for the proposal to be economic. Some staff are concerned that, for more than a decade, their alternative contract salary went in part on superannuation and for what? Some principal teachers have pointed out that even generous compensation, equal to three years or so, will hardly make up for the loss of 20 years or more addition to salary of pound;1,548 gross.

Teaching a paid evening class has renumeration of pound;172.40 a month compared with pound;129 under the alternative contract, but the latter also entails the half-day off in lieu. However, there is no guarantee that teachers will be allowed to retain their evening class, should they accept the deal, for it could be given to any member of the department who retains his alternative contract. The teacher unions and an actuary are being consulted.

Under devolved management, the adult provision in these schools will not be at the discretion of the head. A school like Inveralmond will probably call itself a "community high school", but it will probably be on the model of Fife schools such as Inverkeithing High. Classes which are economic -that is, well attended - will continue. To do more would depend on any additional funds gained from a change of government. Few believe they will be forthcoming.

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