THE SCOTTISH Secretary has relaunched the Government's social exclusion strategy with a major emphasis on American-style "full-service schools". They are being renamed "new deal schools", Donald Dewar said, bringing together as many public agencies as possible to tackle excluded groups and help "communities on the margin".
Mr Dewar first endorsed the concept of such schools in March. They aim to provide a one-stop shop for services including after school care, health and family support. Two or three schemes will be piloted, at least one in Glasgow.
The TESS revealed on May 1 that Aberdeenshire is the first authority to give the go-ahead to full-service schools. The council wants to break "the culture of failure" in schools and allow teachers to share the burden of combating disadvantage. The initiative is to be piloted in Banff, Fraserburgh and Peterhead academies.
The Secretary of State's speech amounts to a repackaging of measures already unveiled individually. The pound;60 million early intervention programme, the pound;23m for out-of-school learning projects and forthcoming announcements on a national childcare strategy and lifelong learning are all regarded as part of this seamless robe.
The moves are being interpreted to show New Labour has a cutting edge to its policies, as the party slogs it out with the SNP until the Scottish parliamentary elections next May. Mr Dewar also attempted to anticipate accusations that these policies will once again be hamstrung by adherence to Government spending plans inherited from its predecessor. While he said funding for the new "social inclusion partnerships" would be partly based on "bending and targeting" of main programmes, he also plans to release pound;16m in 1999-2000 as the old urban programme runs down.
The partnerships will be based on existing deprived areas, but other communities in need will be able to bid for the funds. The Scottish Office has commissioned research to develop a more up to date index of deprivation.
Mr Dewar's speech, which took the form of the inaugural Scottish Urban Regeneration Forum lecture at Wester Hailes in Edinburgh, also carried hints that he is becoming sensitive to criticism that Labour local authorities such as Glasgow are being forced to close schools in the most deprived areas, the very places the new policy is supposed to support.
He said: "Local schools can be at the heart of the community, but in communities on the margin with declining populations they may struggle for viability.
"Meanwhile there is a crying need for local facilities to deliver health, after school care, family support and other services. The new deal school aims to bring these services together under one roof, making services more accessible and more effective, and making better use of under-used school buildings."
Ministers envisage the school itself might offer childcare after school. A child with difficulties in class could be helped by school-based social workers co-operating with teachers. And informal health and social work advice could benefit everybody.
Aberdeenshire director explains his thinking, page 25