Mixing the community cocktail

5th September 2003 at 01:00
New community schools were supposed to modernise schools, develop social inclusion in and out of school, and improve pupils' educational, health and social well-being. Simply to list these ambitions is to indicate how ludicrous it is to have expectations of success after only three years.

This is particularly the case with pupil attainment, given that early intervention programmes are only now beginning to pay dividends after a considerably longer, and more sharply focused, gestation period.

So the inevitable conclusion (page five) after three years of piloting what are now to be called "integrated community schools" is that the jury is still out - not surprisingly. There are, of course, successes to report and the fact that there was no central prescription in preference for "locally grown solutions" has inevitably led to wide variations in progress, making national success even more difficult to pin down.

New community schools are also developing a variety of approaches which are being tried elsewhere - introducing personal learning plans, boosting health promoting activities, enhancing pupil involvement, addressing disaffection, evolving strategies to improve attainment and linking schools with outside agencies. This makes success difficult to pin down as well and to isolate a "new community school effect". Attainment has progressed in these schools but there has been progress in others as well, for example.

None of this is to suggest that integrating services or activities within the one school is a waste of time. The answers lie in the usual "cocktail," as the research itself describes the new community school approach. There has to be commitment within schools and between the various agencies, bureaucracy has to be kept to a minimum, professionals have to value each other's contributions and (of course) resources have to be adequate. But perhaps the major requirement is to acknowledge that the key word in this venture is "community" not "schools." It is not just an education initiative.

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