Good practice is path to improvement

Falkirk teachers are fired up by an exciting initiative with a fresh approach to mentoring

The leading teachers programme is evidence of the strides made by Falkirk Council, according to the authority's director of education services.

Julia Swan, who has been in the post for two years after a move from England, feels that much progress has been made since a 2004 HMIE report.

As the council said in a recent internal report, this identified a number of areas where "we were considered to be less effective than we ought to be".

Mrs Swan said that teachers had to be given the freedom to decide the best ways to improve schools. "The headteacher's job is to change what's going on in the classroom," she said. "My job is to support, monitor and challenge when it isn't working, to create an environment for the teachers to do what needs to be done."

The initiative, she believes, is a prime example of teachers using their on-the-ground knowledge to come up with an effective way of improving classroom learning. "A lot of teachers wanted to do something, but the right thing never came along. It's one thing being a good teacher, but it's another understanding what it is about your practice that is effective and then helping to mentor other people."

Mrs Swan meets with two new focus groups of teachers each term, made up of eight representatives each from primary and secondary. She goes into classrooms, as well as talking with four officers of Falkirk's pupil council.

Relations with parents have improved, due partly to the appointment of a parents' officer and the introduction of a bi-annual newsletter.

A good barometer of how well an education service is doing, she says, is the people who want to work there, and Falkirk Council has a host of impressive headteachers and senior staff sending in applications. One school recently reported 22 good applications for a depute head's job.

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