The cluster bombs are about to fall;Opinion

30th July 1999 at 01:00
PHYSICS HAS never been my strong point, chiefly because I can never get round the concepts involved. One in particular brought me to my intellectual knees. Entropy apparently means what you want it to mean, whether you are in the business of thermodynamics, mathematics or information theory, but a favoured definition uses it to suggest that every organisation is always apparently running down.

Presumably then they need energy boosts to keep them going. Just as presumably, this is part of the underlying rationale behind Glasgow's Learning Communities pilot project.

Sore thumb time. Unlike many of its predecessors in the initiatives roundabout, Learning Communities stands out as not just another routinised shuffle of the educational card, nor a lucky dip in the department's curricular lottery. If I understand it from the blurbs and fliers, the city's schools could face the most far-reaching realteration to their current and understood procedures since the demise of Strathclyde Region, assuming that after evaluation, the pilot becomes the pattern. Glasgow schools may face a new administrative, managerial, curricular and financial format unlike anything they have yet experienced.

Descriptions of how a cluster will convert to a conglomerate hit a lot of contemporary hot buttons, but basically they are to do with social inclusion - quality coherent educational experiences for all from 0 to 18, co-ordinated approaches to learning and teaching, equally shared human resources, best practice, developing local focus.

It would be easy to be swept along with the descriptive enthusiasm, yet Learning Communities troubles me a little. Yes, it is a one-year pilot, yes, it may be off the wall at year's end, yes, the drawing board ink is not dry on it, but I get an uncomfortable feeling from the tantalising hints marbled through the meat. Learning Communities' CV suggests a number of functions will be devolved from their current sites and run centrally.

Pooling and reallocating staff according to pupil numbers, handling absence cover, management of property, community co-ordination of staff development and out-of-school learning are only some of the functions that have been cited to be run by the community principal and the bursar. Convergence with another policy, Time for Teaching, is the cited rationale, to raise attainment.

But in this interlocked jigsaw one piece is either missing or not needed on the journey - primary heads. The nearest I can get to a mention is a reference to school managers.

Learning Communities seems to have ditched the principle of subsidiarity, of local institutions taking local responsibility, and divorced the primary head from most present forms of responsibilities. If it does become the pattern, the primary head becomes a minor functionary, accepting reduced managerial status and diminished managerial responsibility, in effect, becoming assistant head in charge of raising attainment under a community principal.

Why the primary head's role should be facing the possibility of recalibration at this time is unclear, unless - as one suggestion had it - somehow claims for parity with secondary heads currently being pursued by the Association of Head Teachers are involved. Certainly Learning Communities alters at a stroke the role of the secondary head, taking the post to even more rarified heights of responsibility and power - presumably with salary to match.

And entropy? I still don't know, but the Nobel prizewinner for thermodynamics in 1977 got it for suggesting that as a system has more and more energy and matter coming into it, it will reorganise itself into a more complicated one. Could Learning Communities be a cluster bomb?

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