In a move which would have been unthinkable a few years ago, Glasgow City Council is pushing for a closer partnership with independent schools.
The Labour-run council hopes the private sector will provide places in Advanced Higher classes where its schools are unable to. In return, it believes it can share its expertise in areas such as sex education, anti- racism and anti-sectarianism. The authority also hopes to see the two sectors share facilities and expertise in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games in the city in 2014.
The carrot for independent schools, says Maureen McKenna, Glasgow's service director for education, is that it will help them demonstrate "public benefit" to the charity regulator.
Council leader Steven Purcell has been encouraging independent school rectors and principals to become part of what he calls "Team Glasgow", working to enhance the city. "Now that personal relationships have been built up, we have an opportunity to have a more formal relationship, particularly around curriculum areas," he says. "This is of benefit to the independent schools, given the pressure they are under from OSCR (the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator).
"With public service budgets coming under intense pressure as the country pays off its deficit, it will have benefits for us too. While we will protect education in the city, there will be strains at times, particularly in the availability of Advanced Higher options that are already difficult to provide for small classes in some of our secondaries."
He said they were not at the formalising stage that would involve the buying-in of services.
Headteachers in both sectors appear to take the same line. Tom McDonald, head of Holyrood Secondary, which works closely with Hutchesons' Grammar, said: "We are aware of sensitivities and want everyone to be comfortable that this is not being imposed on either sector."
Ken Greig, rector of Hutchesons', said the schools' relationship had arisen naturally from being neighbours, and he doubted the merits of a more formal arrangement.
In Hyndland Secondary, headteacher Ian Alexander, who arranged this year for one of his S6 pupils to do Advanced Higher modern studies at the High School of Glasgow, warned that council schools might come under pressure to cut back their own Advanced Higher options if there was a presumption that independent schools would step in. "The idea that, at the end of fifth year, we would be farming out our most able pupils to the independent sector is not something I support."
Frank Reilly, senior depute at the Catholic fee-paying St Aloysius College, also cautioned independents against the perception that they might be seen to be poaching the best pupils from authority schools.
Holyrood Secondary, Scotland's largest comprehensive, and its independent neighbour, Hutchesons' Grammar, already collaborate in various areas:
- a number of Holyrood S6 pupils last year did Advanced Higher drama at Hutchesons', although Holyrood's head, Tom McDonald, said that in view of its size, it was rare for Holyrood not to be able to run most of the Advanced Higher courses in demand;
- the schools were partners in the Mark Scott Leadership for Life Award, which brings together young people from different social, cultural and religious backgrounds and trains them to deliver a community-based project; their pupils are working with the Dixon Community, a local community association;
- Hutchesons' Grammar invites S6s from Holyrood to attend its regular conferences, the most recent featuring Russian diplomats.