A passionate plea for new community schools not to join "the bleached bones" of other unfinished education initiatives was made by a leading headteacher last week.
Speaking from the floor at the end of a Glasgow conference on the subject, Jim Dalziel, principal of Eastbank Learning Community in Glasgow, said the new arrangements for what are now officially called integrated community schools (ICSs) must be given time to develop.
"What bothers me is sustainability," Mr Dalziel said. "Scotland is littered with the bleached bones of projects never sustained. If we are going for integrated community schools, then we need the commitment to see it through. We are talking about a generation here, so we have to keep at it, and support it."
At a conference workshop earlier, Mr Dalziel had compared the situation in Scotland with that in the United States, where the concept of "full-service schools" had originated.
"Full-service schools were researched over a 10-year period. There is a danger that in Scotland the change has been too rapid and we are trying to judge the project after less than two years," he said. "The ICS project is a kick-start that has shown what is possible. Judgments should be made on their potential rather than branding them as a success or a failure."
The national evaluation of the project, by a team from the Institute of Education at the University of London, concluded that pilot community schools had been "unable to demonstrate substantial impacts" on any of the ambitious targets set for the project (TESS, September 5).
The Scottish Executive is pledged to expand the ICS concept to every school by 2007, providing nearly pound;78 million to support it.
Pamela Robertson, an education consultant and member of the evaluation team, echoed Mr Dalziel's plea for time and asked: "Where did the idea come from that a three-year period would produce significant change for all children? In the pilot phase, work mainly focused on helping those with most difficulty."
Gus McDonald, a senior education officer in Inverclyde, said that the various impacts of the initiative could not all be measured within one time-scale.
"We have a wide range of outcomes which vary according to time-scale," Mr McDonald said. "The danger is that we could be looking for outcomes too soon and if we don't find them this could be misinterpreted as failure."
Mr McDonald suggested that the inspectorate should make reasonable judgments, for example by acknowledging that changes to dietary habits and lifestyle would take longer to influence than attendance figures.
Bill Maxwell, a chief inspector, agreed that it was important to be realistic about time-scales. "But it is also vital that we improve our collection of evidence from all areas in order to provide a basis for judging progress over the longer term."