Pooling resources is the hallmark of Glasgow's new 'learning community' of schools, reports Raymond Ross
A family of schools that takes children from three to 18 is the new model for learning in Glasgow. Unlike the Government's proposed community schools, involving social services, the "learning community" focuses on educational development by pooling human and financial resources.
Two schemes are being piloted in the city's east end, at Eastbank and St Mungo academies, to explore the new structure based on each secondary school with its associated primaries and nurseries.
Curriculum development, staffing and administration will all be co-ordinated through the learning community which could also involve psychology services, community education and other support services.
Eastbank Academy's headteacher, Jim Dalziel, has been seconded as community principal for his area, effectively a line manager for all the heads in Eastbank's cluster of six primaries and six nurseries. A bursar, Gerry Duffy, has been appointed from educational services to take charge of their joint budget of pound;6 million.
The emphasis is on collective responsibility, says Mr Dalziel, who will lead a community board of all the headteachers, to which three senior management teams will be responsible for secondary, primary and early years.
"Our school leavers' results are the culmination of their involvement with the whole education system which now begins more or less at the age of three. The learning community recognises this and promotes the idea that we all have to work more closely to benefit the pupils. It's about continuity." The Eastbank learning community is appointing five "professional leaders", classroom teachers who will be paid a temporary enhancement to support colleagues on early education, literacy, numeracy and 5-14 science and ICT. They will disseminate best practice across the cluster and facilitate pupils' transition from nursery to primary and primary to secondary.
"Education is the main agenda," says Mr Dalziel. "It is not the community principal's or bursar's job to tell individual schools how they should spend their money. It's about pooling resources - human and financial." The bursar's role is to relieve administrative pressure from hard-pressed headteachers, who are rarely trained administrators, and with a team of 20 to 30 clerical workers under him to lift the day-to-day administrative tasks off class teachers and give them more time for preparation and teaching.
"In terms of curriculum management the idea is not one of imposing a uniform method. It is still up to the individual schools to attain the targets in the way they see best. We want the same standard of service delivered throughout the learning community and believe this can be best achieved through sharing resources," says Mr Dalziel.
He points to Eastbank's modern languages initiative. "This is a main initiative in the secondary school. But now as a learning community we have put a bid in for video conferencing resources, so that secondary modern language specialists can become more involved with the primaries via conferencing. With the new set-up it is more attainable and more affordable."
Primaries and nurseries have been under-resourced compared with secondaries, he says, but the learning community can redress the balance. "If it's fair, we share. The learning community will recognise if one school needs more resources in a particular area and, instead of a single school having to argue its case with a centralised education services office, as a group we will be able to give additional support where it is needed."
There will be no extra funding and the basic allocation system to schools, based on staff-pupil numbers, will remain, but the new approach should lead to "a better husbanding of resources," says Mr Dalziel. "There will be a greater sharing of clerical staff, a more cost-effective administration. For example, we are planning one internal phone system for all the schools. And together we will have a better idea of where pockets of money can be shifted for our mutual benefit."
At Quarry Brae primary, the headteacher, Fiona Ferguson, welcomes what she calls the "benefits in cluster planning" and agrees in principle that targetted spending should be to everyone's benefit. "A pooling of resources should open up secondary schools' resources for use in the primary."
She is hopeful that a common development plan will lead to higher standards all round. "The last thing we would want would be a levelling down. I think the joint senior management team will make better transfer arrangements from nursery to primary and from primary to secondary and so create more of a curriculum continuum. That, in effect, would make more sense of 5-14 than at present and the pupils should benefit."
The greater cross-over of teachers between primary and secondary will inevitably raise General Teaching Council considerations in the future, she believes. But she welcomes the idea of a modern language teacher, for example, taking a child through the primary-secondary transition.
Mr Dalziel believes learning communities can function like the Government's proposed community schools. "The community school is seen as an all-through school with additional support services involved, like social work and psychology. I think the learning community is a way of spreading the same idea, but I see it as more flexible and effective in its use of resources.
"In some people's eyes a community school is taken as a recognition of 'deprived' status and that's unfair. Our approach is more mainstream and will deliver the same level of support in any community. There is nothing to prevent a community school being part of a learning community." Glasgow's deputy director of education, George Gardner, also regards the learning community as "an extension" of the community school idea. "The learning community is focussing on educational development but could easily incorporate the community school approach, bringing in health care and social work support as a natural extension."
One of Mr Dalziel's main concerns is to keep parents abreast of new developments. He is preparing a community newsletter to supplement school newsletters: "We have to get the parents thinking, as we do, that education starts at three and goes right through to 18. We have to give young parents with a child at nursery a taste of what happens at primary, and primary parents a taste of... secondary.
"Many of our parents don't know where education can lead. We want to give them the positive message of where their children can go. It's about building confidence and esteem. Over 50 per cent of our pupils come from an area of priority treatment. Over 60 per cent are on free school dinners. This is all about raising pupil attainment and challenging a culture of underachievement." Any fears primary heads may have, that the secondary school will run the agenda, are unfounded, insists Mr Dalziel. "If this model is rolled out to other schools, there will be primary heads who will be better qualified...to take on the role of community principal than secondary heads. The role is about leadership and management skills, personality and experience. But in the end, it's teamwork that will carry the day."
THE BURSAR: GERRY DUFFY Based at Eastbank Academy:
"A lot of my job will involve helping the schools' administrations to operate in a better way. It's about transferring decision-making from the authority to the school. This should have a huge turnaround in terms of speed and lead to a much more efficient service.
"At Eastbank Academy I'm already part of the office. Everything has to be attended to at that minute, because you're dealing with young people. I'm much closer to the effects of my decisions and that gives greater job satisfaction.
"For example, when I see pupils working on new computers which I ordered, I can see the physical and educational benefits of that decision. It's part of my philosophy that administrators should be working in schools. It gives you a more realistic view of day-to-day education and keeps you in touch.
"I think we can make a big difference with regard to the primaries. We'll have a lot more back-up to offer. Forms will not have to be duplicated for central office any more, and things like bus passes and dinner tickets will be sorted in minutes instead of taking half a day. It really is a continuation of devolved school management to benefit the community."
CURRICULUM LEADER: JANET MULRAINE
Based at Dalmarnock Primary:
"I will be liaising with the nurseries and P1 and P2 classes, concentrating on literacy and numeracy.
"Initially, I'll look at current projects to make sure we are up to date with early intervention in numeracy and literacy and to build on the work done, so we are not repeating ourselves.
"This will involve visiting the nurseries, and linking them with primaries. I have a full-time class commitment (P1). But I like the challenge involved in the new post.
"The idea of schools working together can only have a positive benefit in spreading good practice. The pupils are the priority."
THE PRIMARY HEAD: ANN ALEXANDER
Based at Thorntree Primary:
"In the long term the new structure should release me from administration - which is very heavy in a primary - and allow me to have much more involvement in the curriculum.
"Working towards a common curriculum should help avoid unnecessary duplication.
"But it's important each school retains its own ethos and identity.
"I'm a little bit anxious that the class teachers won't have the same sense of their work belonging to them.
"There should be marked benefits in sharing ICT resources and expertise as well as in science and modern languages."