An aspect that must be taken into account is that many pupils do not appreciate the good advice of their teachers. To paraphrase Mark Twain:
"When I was 14 my father was so ignorant; when I reached 21 I was astonished at how much he had learned in 7 years".
The process described below tackles this problem by involving pupils in identifying what they can do to achieve more. It is based on the current trend to produce lists (top ten books, films, steps to giving up smoking, etc). It has the advantage that it adds nothing to teachers' already crowded workloads - apart from some minor tasks for the social education co-ordinator. To understand just follow the ten steps below.
1. Discuss the whole process with S4-S5 social education teachers. Agree deadlines. Teachers then explain this to their S4-S5 classes and complete steps 2 to 5. It is important to be honest with the pupils; explain that the aim of the initiative is to obtain and use their ideas on what actions are appropriate.
2. In each class split the pupils into groups and ask them to brainstorm what actions they could take to obtain better exam results.
3. Pull the class together and ask representatives to report back all of their ideas.
4. Collate the class's results, eliminating clear duplicates. A typical class should be able to produce over 25 items. Find a volunteer to word process the list. Photocopy this for the next lesson.
5. Distribute copies of the list and ask eah pupil to identify their top ten; arrange them in groups and ask each group to identify their top ten. Note each groups' choices on a flipchart. Discuss and select the class's top ten. Submit these to the co-ordinator.
6. If everybody has kept to the deadline, the co-ordinator should have a list of ten actions from every S4-S5 class. Produce sufficient copies of a pamphlet that shows all the sets for all S4-S5 pupils; each set of ten should be labelled (A, B, C etc); and each action should be numbered.
Produce an entry form for a competition in which pupils will identify what they think are the top ten actions.
7. Discuss the pamphlets in each class and collect completed entry forms.
8. Select a group of S6 to select the top ten actions. Contact a printer to print these in the form of a card (bankcard size), encapsulated in heavy plastic. Our printer charged us pound;195 for 400 cards. The cost was covered by sponsors.
9. After receipt of the cards, organise an assembly for the S4-S5 pupils. The S6 pupils give a presentation on their choices, explaining their reasons. Award the prize to the winning pupil. Distribute the cards to all pupils as they exit from the assembly.
10. Follow-up: there are numerous possibilities including putting up posters of the top ten in strategic positions throughout the school, a suitable item on the school's website, and putting an article in the monthly parents newsletter.
Have we been successful? It is still too early to say. We recognise that this process on its own is not going to make a big difference. However, as part of a collection of initiatives, we are hopeful that our pupils will take a more considered approach to their studies and thus enhance their exam attainment. In addition, those who continue their education at college or university will have gained an insight into actions that they can continue to use to their advantage.
Bob McMillan is assistant head at Grangemouth High School, Falkirk