Editorial: #163;15 million cracker

25th December 1998 at 00:00
Some schools will find during next year that they have received a belated Christmas present. It became clear (TESS last week) that the Secretary of State, in seasonal mood, has set aside #163;15 million of the #163;385 million excellence fund for schools in the areas of greatest disadvantage.

The largesse will be distributed over three years and it comes with the disadvantage that by definition recipients will be earmarked as poor performers according to the Government's target setting criteria. But in being named they will not be shamed, which is the crucial distinction between the Scottish Office's project and the "failing" schools agenda south of the border.

The Department for Education and Employment assumes that a school with poor results will be turned around by new management. In the background is retained the power to impose direct control over a whole local authority's schools. Understandably, for a school to be branded as "failing" is a crushing blow to a headteacher, staff and parents. The association of bad exam results with professional shortcomings is not at all axiomatic. There can be other reasons for poor performance, and the Scottish Office initiative implicitly recognises that.

Many "poor" schools have strong headteachers and committed staff. Extra financial help will not be novel for some of them, beneficiaries as they have been of special funding in the past. But programmes come and go and most schools have been deprived of the extra teachers and resources they once had.

Yet they can be turned round. There is evidence for that across urban Scotland. Strong leadership is one key, close identification with the community another. But for pupils for whom the school is an anchor in otherwise troubled circumstances, teacher time for guidance and help with classroom subjects is vital but expensive.

Add in the curricular flexibility being developed and good pupil-teacher relations will be translated into higher levels of achievement. That in turn should encourage more parents to enrol their children and the cycle of deprivation and poor performance would at last be broken.

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