Head defends her school

24th April 1998 at 01:00
Neil Munro investigates recent criticism of management at Scotland's Dance School

Sybil Simpson, the head of Knightswood Secondary, has vigorously defended the Dance School of Scotland in Knightswood, for which she has overall responsibility.

She was speaking to The TESS after a hard hitting report for Glasgow City Council, found "serious" management problems, a lack of artistic direction, no formal dance curriculum, poor staff morale and drab surroundings.

Mrs Simpson said she had identified "a few carbuncles" in the school when she became head at Knightswood three years ago. She wanted time before making any changes, she said, because she was not an expert in dance. The dust also had to settle after local government reorganisation.

But Mrs Simpson soon concluded that: "the structure which was drawn up in 1983, when the school was established, was no longer appropriate for 1998. I was well aware there was a clear need to inject more formality into the school and to establish clearer lines of communication."

The report reinforced the head's own conclusions, pointing to a management structure which lacked "rigour, clarity and focus".

There is a dance curriculum, Mrs Simpson stressed, but it does not give pupils the proper preparation to enable them to choose between careers in ballet and the theatre.

The Dance School, managed by Glasgow City Council, now has 70 secondary pupils, compared with 13 first and second years when it started. The criticisms come at an awkward time, when the council is using it as the model for a school of sport for gifted youngsters at Bellahouston Academy.

This coincides with major challenges for the Dance School, as Edinburgh decides to expand its specialist dance provision at Broughton High and other education authorities withdraw their support from Knightswood. (East Lothian, Argyll and Bute, Stirling and North Lanarkshire have pulled out and Aberdeenshire refuses to pay residency fees.) The Dance School runs the only full-time vocational dance course at a UK comprehensive. Ms Simpson said it would be "a matter of great regret" if the school faced its greatest threat just when it has been licked into shape.

Glasgow has taken action on the report, which the council carried out with Scottish Ballet and English National Ballet. A key recommendation is for a new post of dance director to take charge of staffing, curriculum and management. The present split responsibilities between a head of dance and an artistic director seconded from Scottish Ballet had led to "weakened leadership", Glasgow commented. In the future Scottish Ballet would provide its services on a consultancy basis.

A council reform package, costing pound;15,698, will also improve the position of staff. Low pay has led to considerable turnover as staff are lured to better paid jobs in the private sector. They are to be regraded and put on full-time 52-week contracts and a fourth dance teacher post is to be created.

Glasgow's report notes that the staff have to take part in evening and weekend shows and accompany pupils to competitions and auditions during holidays. They also do "a considerable amount of preparatory work for their classes in their own time and without remuneration".

But despite the criticisms, Glasgow points out that Scottish Ballet has recognised the quality of Knightswood pupils by offering them places without requiring any further training.

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