Warm welcome to partnership education

20th August 2004 at 01:00
It's strange to begin looking at the big issues for this session by harking back to last term.

As one of my early duties as the recently appointed principal of the St Paul's High New Learning Community in Glasgow, I visited two of the pre-five institutions in the community. What an eye-opener and what a joy!

The children were beautiful and their welcome to me was wonderfully mixed.

Some waved, some gathered around and took my hand, keen to involve me in their activities, and some ignored me due to the intensity of their concentration on the task in hand. I was struck by the commitment of the staff and impressed at how such places clearly put huge value on the input of all who provide for the children. It is a salutary lesson for many managers: each person's contribution is critical for overall quality delivery.

My eyes were opened, not only to what I witnessed but also to something I increasingly became aware of last session as I worked to get the new learning community off the ground. The awareness lies in the need for each partner in the community to understand not only his or her role in making the concept work but to be open to listening and learning from other partners.

The implications for making a success of the new learning community are huge but simple: huge in that a range of people have a part to play (and, understandably, in the early days few have any real grasp of the detail) and simple in that the aim can be reduced to one tangible outcome. By working better together they make it possible to improve the life chances of each child in their collective care.

The Scottish Executive is committed to the principles behind this integrated approach. As an aside, I have reflected before on how, in education, the Executive has reason for pride and satisfaction. The roll-out of this programme - new learning communities, new community schools, call it what you will - is an example of government action aimed at making learning better and more meaningful. How each authority responds to the challenges and opportunities remains to be seen, but Glasgow has driven at them with speed and commitment.

Professor McCrone got some things right in his inquiry report and missed some open goals: that seems to be the general impression. The appointment of a school business manager to each learning community directly reflects his view that school managers were too often deflected from education by administrative tasks. Welcoming this new colleague will present all headteachers within the community with a chance to release important daily managment tasks and give back time to becoming more involved in matters of education.

Different areas will adopt different structures and terminology but the one essential for success is integrated working, where partners from each sector are equally valued and bring equal commitment to the one table, the collective vision of improving children's life chances.

It would be misleading to claim that integration works easily and there are plenty of models of good practice which we can emulate, but I'm certain they will exist. I can claim, however, that in the year of trying to create a strong foundation for this session I have been highly impressed by the colleagues from outside education I have been working with, colleagues in social work, health and psychological services and in the voluntary sector.

They have been completely committed to our task and constant attenders at meetings.They have broadened my own understanding of local issues immeasurably. They have been realistic but ambitious. They have been supportive, not only of me but also of each other and the concept of working together. I have to be confident that a difference can be made for our young people.

An exciting term should lie ahead. The inclination is to look for results impatiently. I intend, however, to follow sound advice from our directorate: walk before you run. If I have listened correctly, that may be the way to begin a fruitful journey.

Rod O'Donnell is headteacher of St Paul's High, GlasgowIf you have any comments, e-mail scotlandplus@tes.co.uk

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