Peacock reaches for the stars

5th November 2004 at 00:00
Neil Munro and Gillian Macdonald report on what the Education Minister claims is 'the most comprehensive modernisation in our schools for a generation'

The pre-school, primary and secondary years will all be affected by the Scottish Executive's reform package, Ambitious, Excellent Schools, launched on Monday.

But while Peter Peacock, Education Minister, described the package as a comprehensive programme of action, most of the content (see panel) had been well trailed in ministerial launches and speeches. The difference lies in the detail that has now been provided - for example, in the "schools of ambition" programme aimed at struggling schools.

Another new measure is a leadership academy for headteachers, backed by the Hunter Foundation. Some pound;8 million will be invested in schools of ambition and leadership programmes, although it is not clear how much of that will come from the philanthropists the Executive is hoping to attract.

The schools of ambition programme is possibly one of the key projects of the entire package, focusing principally on secondary schools - although primaries and special schools can make a case for inclusion.

Schools that are chosen will receive an additional pound;100,000 a year for three years, beginning next April and growing to have at least 20 schools involved by 2007.

Mr Peacock repeated in his foreword to the document what he has said before publicly - that impatience is driving this policy as much as anything else.

"When you have seen excellence, you want it delivered everywhere and quickly."

The schools of ambition will be chosen because they are already receiving "intensive post-inspection support" from HMI, or because they have been nominated by their authority as likely to benefit. Applications will be assessed by a panel consisting of representatives from HMI, the Executive, the authority, the philanthropic donor and parents.

The final decision will be taken on the basis of the quality of the case for support, which will have to show how the whole school will benefit.

This will include enhancement of the curriculum, provision of pupil support and plans for stretching the most able pupils. The schools will be encouraged to specialise in areas such as music, drama, sport and enterprise which the Executive believes can provide "strength in depth".

"Sustainability of improvement" will also determine which schools are selected and authorities will have to demonstrate how this is to be kept going. A more elusive factor will be an assessment by the authority of "whether the school has the ambition to carry through the necessary change with the additional support available".

The Executive sets out the case for change by listing the challenges still facing schools - despite many successes. It notes that "too many young people still come out with too little" and that:

* The performance of the lowest attaining 20 per cent of S4 pupils has remained flat.

* 15 per cent of 16-19s are not in education, employment or training (the NEET group).

* Many boys are underachieving.

* There are concerns about too much assessment and a cluttered curriculum.

* There is weak leadership in around 15 per cent of schools.

* More young people need to be more highly skilled and achieving.

* Behaviour remains a problem.

The Executive's main ingredient for turning round that picture is "good leadership (which) is critical to a successful school", creating "inspired, ambitious school communities".

The Leadership Academy, which should be established by the end of next year, is intended "to give access to world class thinking on school leadership and to allow the sharing of experience of school leaders". Mr Peacock wants to see a variety of centres across Scotland.

Heads will also face stiffer tests before they are selected for training to achieve the Standard for Headship, which is to become mandatory for all appointments by next year. New routes will also be available to achieve the standard, as an alternative to the Scottish Qualification for Headship which has been recently criticised.

Mr Peacock sent a strong signal to local authorities that he expects heads to be in the driving seat. "The intention is for the local authorities increasingly to see their role as facilitating the actions of the headteacher."

Main points at a glance

* A new "gold standard" - the excellence standard - for the best performing schools at the top of a new six-point scale of quality indicators, (the others are very good, good, moderate, fair and unsatisfactory). This will be introduced in school inspections from August next year.

* A new 3-18 curriculum, to deliver more choice, a greater emphasis on literacy and numeracy and more time for pupils to study Highers. The first stages, to be implemented from 2007, will redesign the 3-18 science curriculum, "declutter" the primary curriculum and overhaul the S1-S3 curriculum.

* A review of Standard grades to simplify the exams structure, with a decision made about their future by 2007.

* Allowing pupils to sit exams earlier by abolishing the "age and stage" regulations by the end of next year, replacing them with national guidance.

* Allowing primary teachers to work in secondary schools so that pupils' performance does not suffer when they move from P7 to S1.New regulations for the General Teaching Council for Scotland will be brought in by June next year.

* A new Leadership Academy backed by the Hunter Foundation, which will be established by the end of next year, "to help headteachers lead from the front". A coaching and mentoring scheme that will involve peer support for senior school managers and those with the potential for promotion will be introduced in the middle of next year.

* A "schools of ambition" programme will start with immediate effect to fast-track improvements in those secondary schools most in need of transformation or those which want to extend themselves further, giving an extra pound;300,000 each to at least 20 schools by 2007.

* Extending devolved school management so that headteachers have at least 90 per cent control over their budgets, three-year budgets to help schools plan for change and a greater say over staffing structures.

* New "skills for work" courses and qualifications by 2007 to provide pupils with more vocational choices and more opportunities to make their way in the world of work.

* More international comparisons between Scotland's education performance and that of other countries to ensure that Scotland continues to compete internationally.

* A new annual Survey of Achievement from next year to replace blanket 5-14 test surveys, with the assessment is for learning programme by 2007.

* A new round of local authority inspections to ensure they are getting the best performance from schools and headteachers.

* Consultations at the beginning of next year on reforming school board legislation.

* New continuing professional development opportunities by the end of next year for primary teachers to learn specialist skills.

* Personalised learning for young people, with guidance to be issued by 2007 on good practice in reporting to parents.

* New standards by 2007 on how pupil achievement can be recognised in areas such as sport, community activity and leadership.

* Review on guidance will be published by the end of the year.

* Statutory co-ordinated support plans will be introduced towards the end of next year.

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