SCHOOLS ARE to play a leading part in the Government's pound;1.5 billion drive against poverty and social exclusion, which are set to be the key challenges facing the Scottish parliament, the Secretary of State confirmed this week.
Donald Dewar was launching the Scottish Social Inclusion Strategy - largely a recycling of previous announcements brought together to form a single policy - at Castlemilk Youth Complex in Glasgow on Monday. Mr Dewar made it clear that the pound;629 million being made available to schools over the next three years has the eradication of social inequalities as its prime objective.
The initiative will be driven by a Scottish Social Inclusion Network, whose membership includes Douglas Osler, senior chief inspector of schools. David Crawley, head of the Scottish Office schools group, and Ian Graham, principal of John Wheatley College in Glasgow, will also be members.
Five action teams will develop particular aspects of the strategy. Education is represented on the group dealing with excluded young people by Sarah Chisnall, policy officer with the Association of Scottish Colleges.
But one of the leading workers in the field says ministers are simply endorsing existing good practice. "It is gratifying to be in a position where the Government is catching up with the work we have been plugging away at for five years," Anne Campbell, administrator and fund-raiser at the Castlemilk Youth Complex, said after the launch.
She identified study support and alternatives to exclusion as two of the initiatives where collaboration by a number of agencies has had a positive impact.
The Castlemilk centre, which is open to 12 to 25-year-olds, encourages children to drop in to do their homework with youth workers on hand to provide assistance, or to take part in Internet groups where they can e-mail young people in other parts of Scotland.
"At first glance it may not seem like study support," Ms Campbell said, "but it is a tool for encouraging young people to use and develop their numeracy, literacy and IT skills."
She believed the main difference the new national emphasis on inclusion would make would be to encourage better liaison between agencies, many of which have been restricted through staffing levels to meeting only their statutory responsibilities.
Anthony Fox, a first-year pupil at St Margaret Mary's Secondary in Castlemilk, a regular attender at the centre, said: "I can get peace to do my homework."
Anthony took part in a drama presentation at Monday's launch highlighting issues of concern to young people in Castlemilk, particularly bullying. Karen Daly, aged 13, also a St Margaret Mary's pupil, is another member of the drama group which she said had improved her self-confidence and her ability to speak in public.
In addition to study support and the anti-exclusion drive in schools, the Scottish Office highlighted its other educational initiatives - pound;16 million for the Scottish University for Industry; pound;102 million for 40,000 extra FE student places; pound;91 million for the national childcare strategy; pound;138 million on pre-school places for three-year-olds; pound;42 million on early intervention; and pound;26 million on new community schools.