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Plenty of room to improve

A radical initiative in South Lanarkshire allows personal research while raising achievement, writes Gerard Higgins.

Although legitimate concerns regarding the 10-14 curriculum have been extensively documented, little has been done at national or local authority level to address those concerns.

So it was that almost a year ago South Lanarkshire Council appointed six P6-S2 raising achievement co-ordinators with a wide-ranging remit in specific cluster groups of schools.

The job specification also afforded the opportunity to undertake research while working towards a masters degree. Although largely unnoticed at the time, this initiative is now beginning to attract the kind of attention its radical nature deserves.

With teachers increasingly encouraged to question their classroom practice, it recognises the important role of practitioners in taking knowledge forward, and it offers much more than pious encouragement.

The council has invested a considerable sum in employing Strathclyde University to support the co-ordinators in their research. We are guided by Professor Gilbert MacKay, who meets with us regularly both as a group and as individuals. The flexible approach of Strathclyde University's advanced professional studies scheme enables us to sign up for work-based learning agreements which recognise the principle of career-long professional development.

These agreements allow the co-ordinators to investigate areas of interest to them individually. This is continuing professional development in line wih the McCrone committee's recommendations.

Where people have undertaken research activities not associated with a recognised postgraduate course, they can apply to the university for credit under the previous experiential learning facility.

In my own case, two classroom-based research projects on parental involvement in the development of literacy have been taken into account and will allow an accelerated path to a masters degree with the opportunity to progress to a doctorate.

Self-evidently, such professional development is costly in time and money. South Lanarkshire has provided both, paying all course and tuition fees and giving the time within our weekly timetable to plan our research, do our background reading in the literature, meet regularly as a group and individually with our tutor.

The university will also benefit from this valuable partnership with opportunities for new knowledge about learning, identifying teaching and learning priorities from the real life of schools, individualised teaching about research and insight into teachers as researchers.

Our work should lead to a masters degree, which will be suitable validation of South Lanarkshire's foresight and proof that teachers, education authorities and universities can work together to produce useful knowledge. With independent academic evaluation, a successful result might provide an inspirational model for other innovative authorities.

Gerard Higgins is raising achievement co-ordinator, St Andrew's High School, East Kilbride

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