School, family and community

22nd October 2004 at 01:00
Much of the comment in the press following the publication of the recent HMIE report on integrated community schools focused on the failure to raise attainment and achievement within the areas inspected.

The comments did not pick up so clearly the difficulties highlighted by HMIE in measuring other aspects of impact upon a child and a family's life.

There has not, to date, been a clear enough debate on what softer indicators and qualitative evidence are appropriate to use in measuring impact. We are taking on board the potential that schools have in increasing the capacity of a community in relation to being a hub within that community. The school provides opportunities for parents and other community members to achieve, but the effects of this on the attainment of children within the school will not be evident immediately.

In fact there is a wealth of qualitative evidence available to suggest that children's lives have improved as a result of integrated working. Children have not needed statutory social work involvement and have not become accommodated.

With appropriate family, community and health support, parents have become financially more secure and confident in their care. This is the often unseen side of good integrated support by a range of services. Sometimes the only way to measure success in these areas is to talk to the parent or children involved to build up case studies or to reflect on a child's or parent's writing of their own experiences.

My belief is that it will be easier to evaluate impact when we have a set of indicators which reflect integrated working practices rather than the present situation where we have to use How Good is Our School? How Good is Our Community Learning? and appropriate health indicators. It is more difficult to evaluate the social gains in confidence, resilience and self-esteem which inevitably bring other long-term gains to children, families and service provision.

My appeal would be to stick with the integrated community school approach to allow the further development of those areas where the inspectorate has identified potential. We should not lose sight of the progress made where holistic approaches have made a difference to young people.

Changing mainstream provision and meeting integrated community school aims, particularly for inclusion and issues related to poverty, has been a very ambitious target which some staff are only now taking on board. We need time to learn the lessons of the first years, establish clear and realistic targets and ensure the potential of integrated community schools is realised.

Patricia Illsley Community schools co-ordinator Perth and Kinross Council

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