A case of the smarts

10th November 2006 at 00:00
When Christine Wilson was a pupil, a lad named Willie sat at the back of the class, not really learning anything, never engaged.

Even at that age, she was fascinated to know why some children learned successfully and others didn't. So, despite the prospect of a high-flying management career with Marks and Spencer, she moved into teacher training.

Twenty-nine years later, as the only representative of the primary sector on the Smith Group, the schools-business alliance set up under Glasgow businessman Sir Robert Smith, she is poised to play an influential role in the shaping of Scottish education.

The alliance has the task of tackling one of the biggest problems facing Scottish education - the 35,000 16 to 19-year-olds who are neither in employment, education or training (Neet).

Research by Glasgow City Council suggests that by the time a child is in P6, the signs may already be evident that he or she will go straight into unemployment at the age of 16.

Mrs Wilson, the headteacher of Langside Primary in Glasgow's southside, believes that these findings may be conservative and that the signs can be obvious as early as the pre-school stage.

Avoiding becoming Neet requires children to be motivated to learn, and their learning has to be relevant and fun, she believes. Teachers need to adapt their methods to suit different children's styles of learning. If some children can't remember what they have been taught, teachers need to ask themselves why and find ways of fixing that, she says.

In primary schools, teachers are more used to being the "guide on the side"

rather than the "sage on the stage". Perhaps secondary teachers need to be given the scope to adopt some of these methods, she suggests.

Mrs Wilson is worried that the national drive on attainment and exam results has had an impact on children's self-worth and, therefore, their engagement with education.

"If a young person experiences failure at an early stage," she says, "human nature is to engage with avoidance techniques - disengage yourself to conceal the fact that this is difficult for you."

The very measures that seek to shape improvement - exams - may paradoxically also serve to flatten improvement by narrowing some schools'

focus, she suggests. Teachers, therefore, should reflect on whether they are contributing to pupils' loss of confidence.

Under her leadership at Langside Primary, the school has focused on trying to get a handle on the learning process. Inspiration is drawn from Howard Gardner's work on multiple intelligence, Alan McLean's work on motivation, Tony Buzan on the power of the brain, Alistair Smith's accelerated learning, and David Perkins's thinking skills.

Langside's smartboard lists pupils who are people-smart and self-smart. Its key question is "How are you smart?", not "How smart are you?"

Christine Wilson.

AGE - 51 Education

MA, Glasgow University, in German and Social Science; PGCE, Jordanhill College.


Mount Florida Primary (class teacher), and Langside Primary (assistant, depute and headteacher).

School practice

'Positive start' meetings in P1 and P2 which review support for early signs of difficulty; positive parenting classes; parent workshops; 'learn together' club to support bilingual families.

School Achievements

Outstanding HMIE report (2004); Investors in People recognition and re-recognition (1999, 2002 and 2005); BT Communications Award; Enterprise in Education Diamond Award.

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