'A genuine whole-school approach'

17th June 2005 at 01:00
The central idea in solution-oriented schools, explains Deirdre Cavalcante, Moray's depute principal psychologist and SOS team leader, is that "you can always find one thing - sometimes just a wee thing - that you can do differently that will change things for the better."

Although in principle this applies to any problem, the Moray team were unsure at first whether the model they had developed for primary schools would work well in secondary schools.

However, the response of the secondary teachers and managers who have been on the training programme has been very encouraging, says Ms Cavalcante.

Andy Simpson, the headteacher of Elgin High, which was launched as a solution-oriented school last month, says the realism of the approach is what sells it to experienced teachers and school managers.

"It is not claiming to be a magic wand that will solve all our problems.

There is a practicality that you quickly see can bring changes in the classroom and in the school in general.

"Much of it is existing good practice. But it provides a framework for people to reflect on themselves and to take a consistent approach across a school."

Depute headteacher Willie Finnie says this realism makes SOS exciting.

"Teachers need a tool for inclusion. All of us on the course thought about something that had happened to us recently and we all got a new way of approaching our problem.

"The language you use is very important, because it helps you think differently.

"As head of pupil support, my dream is that comments like "Jimmy is late again" will disappear. Instead we'll get: 'Lateness is a problem for this pupil. What are the possibilities?' " The biggest difficulty in a secondary school, Mr Finnie believes, is identifying the key worker. "A pupil might have a dozen teachers, as well as auxiliaries, support for learning helpers, maybe a social worker. A similar approach by all the professionals is essential.

"We are writing SOS into our development plan. By the end of three years we want to see every child treated in a solution-oriented way by every member of our staff."

For Moray's principal educational psychologist, Chris Toon, the SOS programme is attracting so much educational interest because it has moved well beyond its roots in therapy.

"SOS is a genuinely whole-school approach. It is about the culture, the people, the physical environment. It touches on every aspect of a school and the activities and relationships within it."

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