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'Think the unthinkable' about all-through schools

Expansion of the new community schools programme should deliver a new deal for children by creating all-through schools from the early years to secondary.

At a conference to discuss the findings of a major research project into education and care approaches in Scotland, England and Sweden, delegates were told that the United Kingdom countries should avoid "schoolification" and "think the unthinkable" when it comes to training classroom staff.

Bronwen Cohen, chief executive of Children in Scotland, one of the conference organisers, said that the Swedish all-through school was a useful pointer.

The action plan setting out the Scottish Executive's plans following the national education debate highlighted the importance of wider community involvement and of smoothing the transition from early years to primary and from primary to secondary, Ms Cohen said. "Such a horizontal and a vertical integration model would help to make life simpler for children and their families."

Pat Petrie, reader in education at the Institute of Education at the University of London, another of the researchers, said the UK must question "the clutter of occupations" involved in childcare and education or it would be "in a constant mess".

Peter Moss, professor of early childhood at the institute, called for the UK "to think the unthinkable and look at ways of restructuring the workforce".

Professor Moss said: "Instead of constantly trying to find new ways in which these many groups could work together, some of them might be reconfigured or restructured into new professions."

In 1999, Sweden introduced an integrated system of teacher education offering a single degree to replace eight of its 11 degrees. The new degree is made up of three areas of education - "a general field of education, one or more areas of emphasis and one area of specialisation".

The "e64,000 question" is whether the school and the teacher can change, Professor Moss said. "Is a new meeting place and a new profession possible? Or will integration mean 'schoolification' and colonisation by traditional teaching?"

His point was graphically illustrated by a quote from the Swedish minister of schools: "It is very important that school does not seat its big arse on pre-schools and free-time services, but stands up in a meeting of mutual respect and joint responsibilities."

An exchange at one of the conference workshops highlighted another difference between the childcare cultures in Sweden and Scotland when a Swedish teacher bristled at a question about how many teaching "assistants" worked in a particular school.

"We have no assistants," was her somewhat tetchy reply.

A New Deal for Children? Reforming education and care in England, Scotland and Sweden. By Bronwen Cohen, Peter Moss, Pat Petrie and Jennifer Wallace.

Published by Policy Press (available from May 2004). Contact Marston Book Services (01235 465000) for advance orders.

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