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Home truths from the kids

As school managers, part of our remit concerns encouraging a positive school ethos and driving forward national priorities. We've had a good start to the session in these areas, but it's gratifying to report that there has been an element of "trickle up" as well as trickle down.

Take "inclusion", for instance. We work hard at being an inclusive establishment, with staff committed to going the extra mile and working with our partner agencies to support pupils with additional needs. We have pupils from all creeds and none, and from areas as far afield as South Africa, Canada, Scandinavia and the United States.

This year we are hosting three exchange students, two from Germany and one from Sweden. They have settled well into the senior school and the sixth year, not unadmiringly, have dubbed them "Abba".

At the end of their first week, they asked about lunch arrangements. Well into descriptions of swipe cards and queues, we were halted: "No - we know all that. It is the food - it is all fast food, and we don't eat fast food." Much embarrassment in the land of the battered Mars Bar, as we set about prioritising supplies of healthy salads and fruit portions.

They profess themselves very happy here, and say they are already widening their experiences - but, quite clearly, it's going to be a two-way process.

Then there's James. A boy with many problems, he has made steady progress and is a star in our newly launched learning centre. The learning centre, or "TLC" as it's usually known (you old hippy - Ed), provides support for the full range of abilities in school. At any given moment, you might find an Advanced Higher student working on a dissertation, a first-year struggling with numeracy problems or seniors on the paired maths or English programmes supporting younger pupils.

Part of its drive to provide appropriate learning experiences has included hands-on enterprise experience in overseeing the running of the school vending machines - with all the market research, stock checking and record-keeping that this involves.

James has really taken to it. However, one of his class teachers feared that his good start to the term was faltering, as James became more and more agitated and distracted towards the end of a double period last week.

Eventually, he spilled the beans: "I can't waste time here - I've got a business to run!"

A poster on my office wall echoes the famous Clinton campaign call: "It's the kids, stupid!" As we meet the priorities that are set for us, politically and academically, we should not lose sight of the fact that, frequently, those for whom we are really working are the ones who set the agenda.

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