Ministers target 'schools of ambition'

25th February 2005 at 00:00
The Scottish Executive this week put more finishing touches to its "radical step change" to help schools raise their game.

It has written to every local authority asking them to nominate entries for the "Schools of Ambition" programme, targeted on those which show determination to transform their performance.

The first tranche of at least 20 schools is to be named in the spring, and includes some which will be automatically accepted because they have been identified by HMI following a poor inspection report. It is believed 12 authorities have already expressed interest and the Executive believes that there will be no problem finding candidates.

The main focus will be on secondary schools, although proposals from primary and special schools will not be ruled out if they are facing "particularly challenging circumstances".

Much of the detail about the programme, such as the pound;100,000 a year which would be made available for each school over an agreed period, was spelt out when the initiative was launched last year (TESS, November 5).

Further funds are likely to come from philanthropic interests such as the Hunter Foundation.

The Executive also confirmed this week that the schools will have to specialise in at least one area of the curriculum, such as sport, music, the performing arts, languages or vocational studies.

Peter Peacock, Education Minister, described the initiative as "an unprecedented opportunity for schools to raise their ambitions and expectations. The programme will fast-track changes in those schools most in need of transformation or which need to extend themselves further."

Strong leadership will be a key factor in deciding which of the schools nominated are selected and they will have to demonstrate that they have the leadership to deliver change and provide "sustainability of improvement".

Schools will be chosen by an advisory panel chaired by Philip Rycroft, head of the schools group in the Executive's education department. The panel will include Ewan Hunter, chief executive of the Hunter Foundation, and Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector of education. Local authorities and unions are also represented.

While the Executive's critics have pointed to the tiny numbers involved, 5 per cent of secondary schools, one requirement on schools within the programme is that they must share their experience of managing the changes.

Bill McGregor of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland said he was "wary" about the plans. There were parallels with the special measures for struggling schools south of the border, which had not worked.

And heads would have "huge concerns" if the involvement of philanthropists led to city academies, which had proved controversial in England.

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