Expert heads' group to boost pupil attainment

Leaders to advise ministers on how to raise standards for all ages and abilities

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A handpicked group of five current and ex-heads has been asked to advise ministers on how to raise pupil attainment across all age groups and abilities in Scotland.

The "attainment group", announced today by Education Secretary Michael Russell, is made up of three current heads, a retired head and a head- turned-quality improvement manager, all of whom have "made the difference" with their pupils.

Unlike most working groups set up by governments, no one member of the panel will chair the process. TESS understands the five have been told Mr Russell wants more than a paper exercise and that they will be free to decide how they make their recommendations and what they focus on.

The group is understood to have been given access to anyone it wants to question - from the Scottish Qualifications Authority to key speakers at next week's Scottish Learning Festival, and has been given until Christmas to make recommendations.

The focus will be not just the 20 per cent of pupils at the bottom of the attainment range, who are often blamed for dragging Scotland's performance down in international comparisons. Its remit will range from children under the age of three up to 18.

The impetus for setting up the group is said to have been Scotland's recent showing in the Pisa international league tables for attainment in reading, maths and science, published late last year. Mr Russell said they showed Scotland had "turned the tide" - but some commentators suggested Scotland was stagnating compared with some countries, including England.

Mr Russell said: "I firmly believe that our teachers and school leaders are the ones who can make a real difference to our record on attainment, and that's why I've set up a group of people who have wide-ranging experience of leading learning and teaching in schools and beyond to have an intensive look at what more can be done."

The five group members

Val Corry, Head of Balfron High, Stirling

Since Mrs Corry's move to Balfron in 2002, pupil attainment and achievement have increased significantly. She serves on a number of committees supporting Curriculum for Excellence, including an "early adopters" group (TESS, 27 May), and has delivered widely continuing professional development on Curriculum for Excellence and leadership.

Anne Paterson Quality improvement manager (early years), Argyll and Bute Council

A former head of Inveraray Primary, Mrs Paterson has been acclaimed for her pioneering work in outdoor learning and its impact on raising attainment. In 2006, she was Scottish Headteacher of the Year. Her particular interests lie in early education, CfE, outdoor learning, forest schools and interdisciplinary learning.

Lindsey Robertson, Head of Castleview Primary in Edinburgh

A teacher since 1979, Ms Robertson was previously head of Edinburgh's Abbeyhill and Sciennes primaries. In December 2003, she attended the Columba 1400 leadership programme - an experience she found "life- changing" - and soon after applied to become head of Castleview in Craigmillar.

Arlene Black, head of Williamston Primary, West Lothian

A late entrant to teaching, Mrs Black's first permanent teaching job in Scotland was at Harrysmuir Primary in Livingston in 1993, where she was promoted through the ranks to become head in 2000. She was seconded for a month in 2005 to support Meldrum Primary after the murder of a pupil there and moved to Williamston later that year.

Brian McAlinden, Retired head of Castlemilk High, Glasgow

A senior manager for 25 years in secondary schools, Mr McAlinden led Castlemilk High for nine years before his retirement. In 2008, he was praised by HMIE in one of the best reports in the country at the time for his impact on pupil attainment through raising the school's ambitions and expectations.

[Picture credit: Ashley Coombes]

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