Ring of confidence
In one of the most ambitious educational projects of recent years, a national evaluation, led by the Institute of Education at London University, will attempt to track the progress of particular groups of pupils, including the most vulnerable categories who are in care, are low achievers and have special needs.
Pupils will also be compared with those who are not in new community schools to see whether the initiative is "making a difference". The evaluation, which will last until 2005, will not just look at attainment. It will leave virtually nothing out from the quality of teachers' planning and school ethos to the number of accidents in the playground.
The measures are intended to reflect the ambition to bring about improvements in pupils' social and health circumstances, not just in their educational attainment. This "holistic" approach is also embodied in the steering group on the initiative which is headed by the Education Minister and the senior chief inspector of schools but also includes the chief social work inspector and the Executive's chief medical officer.
The researc details, which are published on a dedicated website, will look for confirmation that families benefit too from bringing together the professionals whose work affects them.
In his foreword on the website, Donald Dewar, the First Minister, describes new community schools as being "at the leading edge of the policies of the Scottish Executive". His administration's reputation could rest on the extraordinarily high expectations of the initiative whose aim Mr Dewar described as being to "modernise schools, raise attainment and promote social inclusion".
The First Minister added: "The multidisciplinary, cross-cutting approach underlying the new community schools initiative is an idea whose time has come."
The three phases of the project aim to fund at least two new community school projects in each of Scotland's 32 education authorities by 2001. The first phase established 37 projects involving more than 150 schools, nurseries and family centres. The second tranche will add eight projects in August or October. The final group of schools will join next April.
The plan is to assess each project locally, with findings fed into the national evaluation which will publish progress reports each year. The Executive admits the comprehensive range of information required will be "a considerable challenge".
The new website can be located on httpwww.scotland.gov.ukeducationnewcommunityschools