Councils with high levels of deprivation to bid for funds to drive up standards. Neil Munro reports
SCHOOLS which face a "major challenge" should benefit from a share of pound;15 million over the next three years.
The money, distributed by the Scottish Office, is to be earmarked for education "action plans", in the last tranche of cash to come from the Government's pound;385 million excellence fund. This was set up to raise standards and promote social inclusion following the comprehensive spending review.
The fund, which supports 12 separate programmes from class size reductions to Higher Still, was depleted further this week with the announcement by Donald Dewar, the Secretary of State, that pound;14 million over the three years is to be spent on extending specialist schools.
Mr Dewar's announcement was widely welcomed. But the introduction of "action plans," although carefully crafted to avoid the "education action zones" being established south of the border, will be more sensitive.
Unlike the plans in England, the education authorities rather than private companies will remain in control. But the intention is the same - to develop test-beds for innovation which will drive up standards.
Local authorities with large pockets of disadvantage, mainly in the four cities, will have to nominate their poorest schools. In effect, the schools will be "named" but not "shamed".
Ken Corsar, Glasgow's director of education, said great care would have to be taken to avoid participating schools being seen as "failing." He also hoped cash ceilings would not be imposed on authorities if the intention is to help schools in desperate need.
The plan is to fix a maximum of pound;100,000 a year for each secondary school involved over the three years, beginning in April 1999. But schools, including primaries, could also be grouped together attracting up to pound;500,000 per group.
The Scottish Office has used its target-setting initiative as the basis for deciding which schools need the extra help. They will be those which have the biggest gap in Standard grade and Higher results with similar schools, as defined by free school meals and value-added progress from S4 to S5.
Such schools will have "trends in attainment that are flat or downwards over a significant period" and have high levels of absence and exclusion. Action could involve conventional strategies such as focussing on low-achieving boys, raising attainment in S1 and S2, extending the use of technology, and working more actively with parents.
But the additional funding will only go to schools that also come up with "significant innovative" solutions. This will include some of the vocationally-oriented curricula being tested in Glasgow to turn pupils back on to education (TESS last week).
Schools will also be expected to experiment with staffing using "teachers with an excellent track record in implementing improvements and with high peer credibility."
They would act as both staff tutors and guidance experts, perhaps moving from school to school. Management, too, could be reinforced by drafting in secondees and consultants.
Preference will be given to bids that involve partners from the voluntary sector and business whose contribution could be financial, in kind or in the use of expertise.