Positive and necessary changes;Letter

6th March 1998 at 00:00
The future for residential schools in Scotland, while facing many challenges is arguably brighter than for many years. It certainly is from the standpoint of any prospective pupils, and at the end of the day that is why we are all here.

Having spent most of my career working in local authority children's homes, I perhaps approach the situation from a different perspective to that of some educationists. The "tough" legislation under the Children Act referred to in your report about independent special schools (TESS, February 6) was needed and should be welcomed.

The net result of registration with social services is that residential schools will equal or surpass the standard applied to children's homes. The range of things listed by Mr McLaughlin, head of Lendrick Muir, will be a shock to most local authority care workers as these are mostly issues of the past to them.

These previously differing standards are, I feel, at the heart of the problem as there is a lack of understanding between education authorities and social services. All schools are inspected by HMI, all children's homes by social services quality assurance departments.

Residential schools are now inspected by both. These inspections take place separately with no co-ordination, each inspecting body aiming to drive up standards. This is to be commended, but each department often fails to comprehend the cost, necessities and benefits of the other discipline when it comes to assessing fees.

When I managed a local authority children's home in England, a cost assessment exercise was undertaken to clarify the overall cost of homes in the region. It averaged out at pound;1,200 per place per week. That was over three years ago and did not include any education component. The higher range of 52-week fees in residential schools is comparable with that figure.

In reply to concern about high fees in comparison to English schools, many of the care components in English schools are below those being demanded of us. Woodlands School has over the last 12 months undergone radical change to meet HMI and QA standards. This has cost pound;250,000, involved changes in staff structure and large refurbishment projects. We believe the changes were necessary and positive.

Residential schools should be viewed positively as an early option providing quality care whilst quickly getting the young person back into a pattern of school attendance and achievement. What we now need is understanding and co-ordination from the two referring disciplines.

JIM WHITE

General manager Woodlands School, Newton Stewart

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