Connectivity is the new rallying call in cluster city

17th March 2000 at 00:00
GLASGOW has identified another four secondary school catchment areas it hopes to turn into "learning communities", The TES Scotland understands.

Pre-school centres, primaries and special schools linked to Lochend, St Andrew's, Smithycroft and Whitehill secondaries will join the "clusters" which blazed the trail at Eastbank and St Mungo's academies.

Similarly, they will be led by a principal chosen from among the existing headteachers. A bursar will be appointed to each cluster to take over non teaching aspects.

A review of progress to date acknowledges that better communication with parents is required. The pilot has also been regarded with "varying degrees of suspicion by some staff", the council's report states. Staff turnover, delays in installing new technology and technical difficulties with the budget have held up progress.

Ian McDonald, the city's depute director of education, told advisers that the council was none the less "quietly impressed" by the commitment and initiative the two clusters have shown so far. The idea is to ensure schools and their wider communities break down barriers and support each other's learning, with "the bottom line" being an improvement in pupils' attainment, Mr McDonald said.

Schools will have full control of their own budgets, which works out at an average expenditure of more than pound;6 million per cluster and allows them to call in specialists such as psychologists and learning support staff as required.

Mr McDonald believes the council's plan will make more progress in the next 18 months as information and communications technology links not just schools but individual classrooms, with free access to the Internet. "Connectivity will be the biggest single change to transform education, bigger even than the invention of the printing press," he suggested.

The role of teachers, while remaining crucial, will undergo massive changes.

"They will be able to do all the kinds of things that were simply talked about in the 1980s and 1990s. As ICT opens up unlimited knowledge and information, teachers will become facilitators of learning, be able to do much more differentiated teaching, provide much more resource-based learning and do what they are superb at which is imparting skills."

Mr McDonald pledged that learning communities will be given scope to find "local solutions for local problems" even if that means departing from national guidelines. "If schools are driving this agenda, there is a strong likelihood that it will be successful," he added.

The success of the new approach will be judged partly by improvements in attainment, although these will not happen overnight, Mr McDonald said. More effective use of resources and more time for teachers to teach would be other criteria.

A final yardstick, Mr McDonald said, might be "whether there is less frustration because decisions are being taken closer to the ground within each cluster. At the moment I still have people ringing up to ask if they can buy a mobile phone."

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