Too little back-up at all-in schools

14th November 2003 at 00:00
David Henderson reports from the primary heads' conference in Glasgow

Lack of back-up services is hindering the progress of new community schools in the primary sector, Kay Hall, president of the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland, has warned.

Schools were doing their best to help the most vulnerable children and families but other services had yet to be established, Mrs Hall told the association's annual conference in Glasgow last weekend.

"Unless there are systems in place to support the child in the home, those involved in supporting the child in the school cannot possibly succeed," she said as Peter Peacock, the Education Minister, promised a fresh approach to what are now branded integrated community schools (ICSs).

Mrs Hall, head of West Kilbride primary in North Ayrshire, said the infrastructure needed to give families consistent help was not universally available.

"At the moment, psychological support across Scotland appears to be frugal and so is access to anger management, counselling, befriending services and family support. It is nearly impossible to buy time from community policemen, young people support teams and social workers. Sadly, when they are available they may totally disappear when there is a change of personnel," she said.

Mrs Hall also insisted that social inclusion agendas were equally likely to fail if teachers had to cope with classes of up to 33 pupils where those with behavioural difficulties often required individual attention and extra management time.

"Some young people with behavioural difficulties require 311Z4 hours' cover per week, not just 25 hours' class contact because playground cover is essential as well. Teachers tread a fine line between the rights of the most problematic children and the safety of their classmates," she said.

Turning to similar themes, Mrs Hall welcomed the recent announcement of a 3-18 curriculum review as a step towards restoring the 5-14 programme as guidelines. But she complained that the national review group did not contain a single class teacher.

Schools were committed to better information for parents under the national priorities, yet teachers feared this might involve even more paperwork.

Primary staff were most skilled in maths, language and the child. "We are generalists in other areas of the curriculum but no one can be expected to report on up to 33 pupils in 13 subjects which contain 33 outcomes and that does not include modern languages," she said.

Mrs Hall also reminded ministers not to over-emphasise the place of assessment in their reforms. It was only a small part of the teaching process and should be allocated a realistic amount of time.

Along with others, she feared imminent cuts in class contact time may rebound on heads who will be forced to cover even more hours.

* Primaries need a better filtering mechanism to avoid curriculum overload, according to Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector. "Where the demands are unrealistic, you need to say so," Mr Donaldson told heads.

He was responding to Sandra West, Sunnyside primary, Glasgow, who told him it was impossible to fit in all the new areas such as enterprise.

Mr Donaldson believed the curriculum review would allow heads to take decisions about what was important to them.

Mrs Hall countered that the current 5-14 curriculum could not be delivered in a 25 hour week.

Edinburgh Conference 6

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