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Team effort to promote more effective learning

By 8.20am most of the guidance staff at St Margaret's Academy in Livingston are already in their base, checking e-mail messages and answering the telephone. Pupils are turning up at the door seeking out-of-class slips or bringing behaviour cards to be signed.

There is a steady flow of traffic. A few pupils are quietly explaining recent absences. One case is perhaps more serious: a child whose work is deteriorating because of truancy. Another boy explains why he has been stopped from doing practical work, having hit his hand with a chisel.

The guidance staff are also helping out with the S1 sports heats this morning, so they come and go with some regularity.

Each of the six guidance teachers is responsible for 180 pupils and each has a guidance role in their own subject department (none are full-time guidance staff). They have visited the school's six associated primaries to explain its guidance system and are preparing for the two-day P7S1 induction soon, including a new parents' evening.

They are also busy setting up the S5 induction the following week, arranging for outside speakers and careers advisers. The focus will be on learning styles.

"We try to give the pupils as many new ideas as possible to develop their own learning style," says Cath Whitten, a maths teacher and assistant principal teacher of guidance. "We do things like brain gym, but we're also trying to introduce music into the classroom; music and the mind, Mozart and maths."

The guidance staff are planning to take the new S6 class away for two days of team building to work on learning styles, how to relax and to feel valued.

Having their own outdoor education specialist in school is a boon. The new P7S1 intake are being taken to an outdoor centre in Inverness for a week. This involves 160 children, 13 St Margaret's staff and five staff from the primaries.

"Parents are very enthusiastic about this," says Ms Whitten. "We've been doing it for five years and find that it helps pupils establish new friends and works against bullying and isolation.

"It complements the buddy system where we try to pair S6 pupils with S1s from their own area so that they travel on the same buses. That's important when you have a large catchment area like ours," she says.

The guidance team works from 8.20am to around 5pm every day. School may finish at 3.35pm but parents will telephone or visit, often unannounced, at any time in the day up to around 5pm.

A mixture of wry smiles and loud guffaws greets the mention of the 35-hour week. A lot of their preparation, subject marking and administration work is done at home because of the almost constant attention which pupils and parents need or want.

Elisa Kerr, a music teacher and principal teacher of guidance, says:

"There's an implication in a lot of the discussions around McCrone that guidance has focused too much on the pastoral side and not enough on learning and teaching. But here we do focus very much on curricular matters, on vocational choices and education for work.

"Guidance is the promotion of effective learning and teaching. It's at the heart of the school. I don't know if McCrone fully appreciated that. The pastoral input affects attainment," she says.

One positive effect the McCrone report is going to have, according to modern studies teacher and principal teacher of guidance Frances Laing, is to put in place more effective links with outside care agencies.

"Our school liaison group is going to become a joint action team. The idea is to access these agencies - social work, education welfare officer, school doctor, community education, outdoor education, youth strategy, learning support and educational psychologists - more quickly and efficiently through a pastoral support manager and an integration officer who will liaise with all the primaries," she says.

An induction meeting for the acting pastoral support manager starts. The role will eventually be filled by someone from a social workcommunity education background, but geography teacher and principal teacher of guidance Therese Dixon has agreed to develop the post over the next 18 months. Her new role is being outlined and discussed, until she has to leave the meeting to do her turn at the S1 sports heats.

With depute headteacher Karen Chapman and assistant headteacher and head of guidance Sean McPartlin, the parameters continue to be laid out on a provisional basis. It's uncharted territory. They know what they are setting up will have to be revised and adapted through experience but the focus will remain the improvement of effective learning and teaching in the school.

That is the upside of the post-McCrone agreement. The possible downside is that St Margaret's may lose two of its six guidance staff, leaving four with responsibility for 250 pupils each. This, though, will be offset by the appointment of a clerical pupil support assistant to help with attendance and registration administration duties.

"No decision has been made," says Mr McPartlin. "One thing under discussion is that each pupil and their family should know that there will be one person (their own guidance teacher) they can go to.

"Hopefully the post-McCrone arrangements will share responsibility for the pupils' welfare across the range of agencies through a much better routing system but with the guidance teacher always as the first port of call."

Mr McPartlin says the role of guidance is to support pupils, families and teachers to ensure each pupil reaches their potential.

"Tracking and monitoring should help bring an equal service to all pupils, not just those with perceived problems. Hopefully McCrone will free up time for that.

"The role of guidance is difficult but crucial. It cannot be done without support from management and colleagues; it's a real team effort. And that, I believe, is what we have here."

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