The community challenge

5th September 2003 at 01:00
New community schools have been more successful in achieving "soft" targets than "hard" ones, the final evaluation report of one of the Scottish Executive's key education projects has concluded.

A range of factors meant that the pilot programme has been "unable to demonstrate substantial impacts" on any of the ambitions set for it, the study declares.

The Executive, however, lost no time in noting that the schools, now renamed "integrated community schools", have increased support for vulnerable youngsters, encouraged more active pupil and parental involvement, and increased the range of activities pupils undertake during and after school.

Of equal importance for ministers is the finding that just under half of those involved in primary schools and nearly two-thirds of those in secondaries believed that the impact of the initiative so far on pupil attitudes to schools was "considerable".

There were 37 projects involving 170 schools and institutions in the first phase from 1999-2002, the focus of the evaluation by a team from the Institute of Education at London University.

But the attainment picture was mixed. Almost half of primary and secondary schools reported a "moderate positive effect". More than half the secondary schools, however, said the impact was "limited".

There was little evidence that the gap between attainment in new community schools, which were established in the most deprived areas, and others had narrowed at the 5-14, Standard grade or Higher stages. There was "a fairly steady improvement" over the three years in 5-14 test results but this was also the case for other schools.

There was "no significant difference" between attendance trends nationally and those in the pilot schools (although a third of the secondary schools in the pilot had seen a "considerable" benefit for pupils at risk of exclusion).

Staying-on rates in the schools improved as they did nationally suggesting, the researchers say, that the rate of raised expectations was no different.

Personal learning plans, which are at the heart of the policy, had developed more strongly since the first year of the pilot but "substantial numbers of schools still perceive difficulties or have made little progress". Teachers' commitment was questioned.

The report suggested, however, that three years was not long enough to judge the effectiveness of the project, and any conclusions about the performance of pupils should be regarded as tentative.

Peter Peacock, Education Minister, said he would consider how the integrated approach, which brings education together with health and social services in each project, could become the norm.

The Executive is pledged to extend the concept to every school by 2007, providing nearly pound;78 million to support it. But the study found that one of the most intractable problems was promoting joint working between the various agencies. A range of barriers included "practical issues of different working hours, holiday arrangements and accommodation, and professional issues of confidentiality, procedures and levels of formality".

There were weaknesses with the key "integration managers" who have been appointed to lead the management of the initiative in most of the projects.

They faced "substantial challenges" in overcoming barriers between different professionals, had difficulties in managing staff and relating to others, and had to deal with "overly complex" arrangements.

Leader, page 26

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