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Trusts poised to test schools

The new legislation on children going through Westminster could have its first impact in Scotland, as Stirling Council considers whether to set up children's trusts.

This is just part of a series of measures aimed at bringing together children's education, social work and health, which have the potential to be one of the major reforms to hit schools in decades - but of which schools are largely unaware.

Scottish Executive officials have been working on a remarkably wide-ranging set of initiatives to implement the measures in the hard-hitting 2001 report For Scotland's Children under the direction of a Cabinet group chaired by Peter Peacock, Education Minister, and including the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.

That report described many services for children as being in a "chaotic condition which, at least in relation to the most vulnerable, are close to crisis".

The Executive has already sent out guidance on children's services planning and set up a review of the early years workforce. Other moves include the extension of the education inspectorate's role to child protection and children's services and a revised youth strategy.

The Finance Minister's spending review statement next month will also be a key development which will set out not just the funding priorities for children and young people, but national targets to track progress.

While reforms north and south of the border have been largely driven by crises involving child protection, there is now a gathering consensus that all services for children, on which an estimated pound;750 million of public money is spent in Scotland, must work more closely together. This is what children's trusts are designed to do, pooling resources across a number of services and operating at arm's length from local authorities.

Stirling, the first UK council to set up a children's committee in 1996 and which this week received a glowing HMI report (page six), is now looking at this possibility. As Gordon Jeyes, its director of children's services, put it: "We are happy to be convinced."

Meanwhile, Stirling is to rebrand its integrated community schools to create local children's community partnerships, which will be the focal points for all services and activities involving children, including schools. The council is prepared to devolve increasing resources to these "multidisciplinary settings."

The plans involve each child having a "key worker", which Mr Jeyes said will go well beyond the current school guidance system and will take the best elements of practice from each professional discipline.

"I think it has been generally recognised now that we have done well on the school improvement front," he said. "But we will not tackle the poorest performing 20 per cent of youngsters if we just continue on that route. We will only do it if we move to community engagement and family learning, and we can only do that if there is joined-up working."

Other authorities have embarked on the "children's services" route to a greater or lesser extent, including Highland, Perth and Kinross, East Ayrshire, Edinburgh, Dumfries and Galloway and East Lothian.

Bruce Robertson, Highland's director of education, said the major issues for schools are the health agenda and child protection. "The 2004 parent is looking for more from schools and other services than 9am-4pm provision," Mr Robertson said.

He added: "We need to grow professionals and develop innovative approaches to work across a range of services for children."

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