The hard slog out of poverty

1st October 2004 at 01:00
A flop after expenditure of pound;115 million, or a ripple in the ocean of measures to tackle poverty and underachievement? New community schools, a flagship Scottish Executive policy, have been rebranded as integrated community schools and are likely to undergo further name changes, as in Stirling. But to what purpose?

All schools are being told to follow the model by 2007 without any hard evidence that staff time spent on non-teaching matters has any effect on attainment, the unrelenting yardstick by which teachers are measured. This perhaps explains why front-line classroom staff remain to be convinced.

They have yet to see any major back-up services that will improve their lot, especially when many complain of increasing burdens caused by the demands of inclusion.

A key difficulty, as the inspectorate reports (page four), is that we do not as yet have any other means of judging the impact of the ICS initiative. There are plenty of "soft" indicators and strong opinions in favour but little else. We do not know whether the plethora of breakfast clubs or health promotion projects make a long-term difference. There are said to be few benefits for children and families so far.

HMI and university researchers agree that there is much to be done after a faltering start and maybe it is too early to pass judgment. In the United States, where the concept was born, it took more than 10 years to discover that 80 per cent of the outcomes were positive. In Scotland, where one in three households is in or on the margins of poverty, lifting attainment and achievement must be a long-term goal. But by what route?

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