by Jackie Brock
I was delighted to attend Scotland’s education summit on 15 June. What a tribute to Scotland’s commitment to children, young people and their education. How many other countries would be able to bring together the leadership of all our political parties represented in our Parliament together with key professionals, parent and third sector representatives?
It was also timely and important to hear from Andy Hargreaves of the OECD that, internationally, Scotland is “well ahead of the curve” in relation to our progressive and far-reaching reforms, principally Curriculum for Excellence and achieving outcomes.
But, he warned, if we are to maintain this, Scotland must be bold and clear in relation to developing a system, which shows how effective every aspect of the education system is in securing improved outcomes.
I suspect that there will be considerable debate and discussion before agreement on this system is achieved, and for our part, Children in Scotland will work with its members on contributing to this. However, what provided most of us present with considerable food for thought, were the reflections of the Head Teacher of Craigroyston High School, who hosted the summit.
He reminded us that his school’s successful work in raising the attainment of young people was a single-minded focus on how the school could do their best to make sure that young people left school with every opportunity to fulfil their potential –whether through work, further or higher education. Alongside this, he reminded us that his day-to-day work involved engaging with the diverse range of community groups and employers who can offer the school support and resources. The school is the first point of contact when any of the young people have experienced any problems out of school – contact from local agencies is a daily occurrence.
It made me think about what we want from our schools and how we need to support them in the challenge of reducing attainment.
We heard from the First Minister and Deputy First Minister that while the reasons for the inequality faced by children are outside the school, the school is one very important route to remove these inequalities. So how do we support them better?
Firstly, it’s important to remember that every state school in Scotland faces inequalities. One of the fantastic aspects of Scotland’s education system is our commitment to comprehensive education. So, schools reflect their communities. But no matter how affluent their community, every school should review its approach to make sure that every child gets the same opportunities, no matter what their background or home address is.
Around a quarter of Scotland’s secondary and primary schools serve communities with high concentrations of multiple deprivation. That’s around 100 secondary schools and around 500 primary schools.
The National Improvement Framework and Raising Attainment for All has recognised this in its first tranche of funding. Funding is important – but it is so much more than that and the next steps need to look at the extent to which we are supporting the school leadership in these schools.
In our experience, the school leaders who thrive in serving these schools are those who are active and passionate champions for their children and young people. They are shameless entrepreneurs (in the best possible sense) – consistently seeking out opportunities to work with those people and organisations who will support their school and will lever in additional resources. They understand about partnership working. Equally, they reject the old image of a “Fortress School”. They actively enable leadership amongst their pupils, extending opportunities to the children and young people of their school to be leaders of their learning. They welcome and encourage parental engagement in all aspects of their school.
The school leadership are genuinely not just leaders in their school but are leaders of a school which is at the heart of its community – but are we providing enough support to them?
To what extent, do our expectations of school leaders and their training and development equip them for this community role?
What systems are in place within local authorities, community planning partnerships and within the third sector to enable the school leadership to exercise their role?
Do we make it easier or harder for school leaders to navigate their way through setting up an after school activity or bringing the very best employment partnership to meet the school’s particular needs?
There is so much to learn from the thousands of successful school and community partnerships. At Children in Scotland we recognise that if we can free up as much time as possible for school leaders, such as completing the paperwork for funding applications; organizing meetings; project managing, this then gives them the time to focus on making sure the support works for children. This is often overlooked by the third sector and we need to factor it in to our support. Never underestimate the relief we can provide by reducing any bureaucracy and making more time for teachers to be with children or young people, doing what they do best.
The Scottish Government’s Delivery Plan in this area is to be published by the end of June. A key element of this has to be about focusing on how we provide practical support to school in areas of significant deprivation – only through this targeted intervention, and sharing of the load, will we make a significant contribution to reducing inequality.
About the author
Jackie Brock is Chief Executive of Edinburgh based charity, Children in Scotland. She took up post with the charity after 12 years in the civil service, during which she led on the development of Curriculum for Excellence in her position as Deputy Director of Learning and Support. Jackie’s key priorities are improving educational attainment, tackling child poverty and improving the early years.