Redefining learning gives every pupil a chance

Campsie View's uplifting message is that children with complex needs can learn – they just learn differently

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The casual observer could be forgiven for assuming that Scottish education is plagued by misery and mismanagement. If education makes the news, it tends to be because something has going wrong. And the doom is all-enveloping – no one is immune from it.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen that both the newest and most experienced teachers are going through the mill.

'Exploited' and overworked

Ken Muir, chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland spoke out about probationers being "exploited" and made to work longer hours than they should.

Meanwhile, older teachers are feeling the pinch (article free to subscribers) and wondering if they can summon the energy to work until 70.

Some problems beset all corners of the schools system. As education secretary John Swinney wisely acknowledged in his first speech to Parliament after taking on his new job, tackling workload is an urgent priority. And it remains to be seen whether Curriculum for Excellence – a supposed cure for excessive bureaucracy, teaching to the test and a host of other educational ailments – will go down in history as a landmark or a lead weight.

Journalists perform a crucial role in a democracy, asking hard questions and holding those in positions of power to account: that being so, the default position is to shine a light on things that are going wrong.

While we make no apology for this, we acknowledge that the balance can tip too far. In an age of 24/7 media, if the news is unremittingly negative, then it can make people feel powerless and desperate, and this is no less true for educators than it is for the general public.

A recent survey by primary school leaders’ body the AHDS asked for suggestions on how to fix the profession’s recruitment crises.

Interestingly, one recurring answer was that more should be done to portray teaching in a positive light, to show how uniquely rewarding the job can be and how teachers’ influence ripples through pupils lives long after they leave school.

Reasons to be cheerful

So in that spirit, this week, we report on one of the most uplifting workplaces we’ve had the fortune to visit: Campsie View (pictured), a school in Lenzie, East Dunbartonshire, for pupils with severe additional support needs.

This is not a Hollywood tale. The sort of scenes that captivated viewers of Educating Yorkshire in 2013, when pupil Musharaf overcame his stammer, are not what you will typically find here: instead of being spectacular and immediate, educational gains at Campsie View tend to be painstaking and incremental.

Part of what makes this school remarkable is the preternatural calm and patience the staff show with young people who in times past would have been written off (and still, in some countries, might literally be left for dead). Here is education at its best, where a teacher’s every action is guided by the highly specific needs of each pupil.

Headteacher Carole Bowie, a redoubtable figure who combines unstinting compassion with a steely determination to fight her school’s corner, has a mantra about pupils that should be pinned up in any school, special or otherwise, with challenging pupils: "They can learn – they just learn differently."

That belief fuels everything that Campsie View does – and that’s why it is one of the sunniest uplands of Scottish education.

Subscribers can read more about Campsie View's work here

This is an article from the 3 June edition of TESS. This week's TESS magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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