Right idea, wrong name

27th June 2003 at 01:00
THE new community schools initiative should be renamed to reflect more accurately work at local level, university researchers suggest in a 95-page analysis of the operation of the first phases of the programme in Stirling Council.

An inquiry led by Professor Julie Allan of Stirling University concludes that there have been "substantial" achievements since the launch in 1999 but there is a "continuing need for attitude changes in all front-line staff" if the needs of children are to be met.

Staff in education, health and social work are still coming to terms with the new focus on children and families and need more time to work collaboratively. A name change "may be propitious at some point", the academics suggest.

Workers in each sector report considerable progress in understanding other services, looking at the needs of the whole child and the role of other agencies. Sometimes practice is slow to change despite significant staff development and work-shadowing programmes.

Inter-agency co-operation has sharpened work with vulnerable children and families, tackled poor health in communities and involved young people more in education. In primaries, children draw up their own personal learning plans.

The researchers state: "According to headteachers, while some interventions were more successful than others, no cases failed to show any improvement."

Parents said the home-link worker gave them a clearer picture about difficult behaviours in schools. One said: "I thought, well that's good because the school finishes and then you're left in limbo for so many weeks. If there is a problem I like to know I can get in touch."

But Professor Allan's research highlights the difficulties that staff have in grasping the new community school concept when a quarter of social work posts remained unfilled and social workers often had only "patchy" awareness about the initiative.

THE HOME FRONT

The researchers highlight the Bannockburn home-school link programme whose activities included:

* Helping a mother establish new home routines to overcome the habitual lateness and absences of three children.

* Working with a P6 bully and with the main victim who also had a health problem.

* Working with a parent to develop more productive, non-confrontational relations.

* Helping to get looked-after children to social events.

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