International Lessons on Service Integration: Scotland’s New Community Schools

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by Gordon Higgins, Lead Officer, Integrated Children’s Services, Argyll and Bute Council, Scotland

International News    Gordon Higgins has been a valuable link between The Children’s Aid Society and Scotland since he first visited Children’s Aid’s Community Schools about 10 years ago. He has contributed to the implementation of similar models in Scotland by bringing groups for study visits and keeping abreast of Children’s Aid’s Community Schools developments by paying yearly visits to the NTACCS and keeping open communication with its staff. He has also presented the Scottish model during the Community School Practicum conferences in 2005 and 2007, and this year he shared the Scottish Community Schools strategy with a large group of Irish educators and social workers that visited The Children’s Aid Society’s schools in NYC. The contributions of Argyll and Bute Council to Integrated Community Schools/Children's Services in Scotland and to the Community Schools movement internationally have been very valuable and Mr. Higgins has been a solid voice, always willing to learn and share his knowledge.

In 1998, Scotland’s 32 local authorities were invited by the Government to bid for funding to pilot two New Community Schools (NCS). The aims of NCS were to enhance learning and attainment and to promote inclusion. The Government issued a NCS prospectus as an aid to local planning. Argyll and Bute Council, a regional government entity, responded to this invitation with several partner agencies and has successfully piloted two initiatives between 1999 and 2004.

In 1994 the Argyll and Bute Council was faced with the challenge of meeting the Scottish Government’s aim that every school would become a community school by 2007. Funding from the NCS Programme was combined with the Changing Children’s Services Fund, both sharing similar objectives, to create FUSIONS (Fuller Services in Our Neighbourhoods and Schools). Each of the four administrative areas of Argyll and Bute appointed an Area Integration Manager who received an enhanced level of funding to develop the Integrated Community Schools approach. This programme ran successfully from 2004 to 2008.

During both phases, effective integration was the main responsibility of the Integration Manager. This proved to be an ongoing process requiring attention throughout. Several specific steps contributed to the success of our initiative − joint initial and ongoing planning; joint management, conducted through monthly meetings; joint needs assessment; joint training and staff development; and shared responsibility for results and sustainability. The following is a description of each of these aspects of our work:

  • Joint Planning: Involving all partners from the very start during the planning phase was essential to securing a multi-agency buy-in to a truly shared vision for the NCS development. Each of the local agencies contributed to the plan on an equal basis with their contributions valued. Local ownership of the plan resulted in a smooth transition into operations and in particular ensured a very positive relationship between the Integration Manager and the schools’ Head Teachers (Principals).
  • Joint Management: All partner services were involved with the management of the NCS initiative. Local multi-agency management groups were established that met monthly to consider planning, monitoring and progress reports and to discuss funding allocations. This resulted in an ongoing commitment to service integration.
  • Joint Needs Assessment: Involving partner agencies in needs assessment and NCS service delivery was another important way to secure effective collaboration. The NCS team both consulted and involved partner agencies in planning and delivering services. This greatly enhanced integration and delivery of services.
  • Joint training and staff development was perhaps the most successful approach to securing effective integration. The NCS initiative required new and radical thinking. Joint training for NCS staff and their partner agencies helped both groups develop a range of new skills, identify additional approaches to service delivery and learn to value what each agency could bring to the process of delivering integrated children’s services.

The provision of multi-agency family support is one of several results of our service integration work. For example, Cowal Family Support Service is staffed by a Social Work Children's Worker, Early Years Worker, Home-link Teacher and School Nurse. Referrals are received from schools and other agencies, with regular meetings held to assess referrals and plan early intervention support on an individual or group work basis. A range of educational, health, play, parental support, confidence and esteem building services are used to support children and families. Volunteers are enlisted to help professional staff provide support for families. These partnerships have resulted in several notable improvements, including student retention instead of exclusion, increased parental support to children and their learning, improvements in children’s academic achievement, school attendance, social skills, nutrition and health.

In 2008 Argyll and Bute entered into a sustainability phase. Four new Area Children’s Services Managers are now responsible for both managing the local social work team and leading on integrated children’s services. Funding from the Scottish Government for integration and Community Schools is no longer protected and budgets have to be won against other competing priorities. There still remains a high level of commitment at national and local level to integration.

The Scottish Government has demonstrated a commitment to integrated practice through the “Getting It Right for Every Child” (GIRFEC) reform program, which will inform all future children’s services developments. GIRFEC is grounded in a set of values and principles that include a requirement for agencies to work together and share information, the development of preventative and early intervention services and a commitment to develop services within the two universal services accessed by children, schools and the National Health Service.

In Argyll and Bute, GIRFEC will be the program against which all integrated children’s services will be developed. At this early stage, new strategic and operational structures have been established to secure the continuation of integration around schools. Lead officers from the local authority and health services have been appointed to support the development of GIRFEC and integrated services. A strategic Integrated Children’s Services Plan has been agreed upon and will inform local planning through the seven new Integrated Children’s Services Locality Groups led by the Area Children’s Services Managers.

Much has been learned and a wide range of services developed in the 10 years since we started with the NCS approach. It is essential that we continue to build on that experience and ensure that we take advantage of every opportunity offered nationally or locally to ensure that effective integration of services around schools becomes embedded in mainstream children’s services.