A show of hands

15th October 2004 at 01:00
Higher pupil aspiration and lower staff turnover are management achievements to be proud of. As for a 90 per cent parent turnout for an evening event, well, you have to ask what they're all on at Sholing Technology College in Southampton.

A couple of years ago the school changed its name - it used to be Sholing Girls' - and took the chance for a rethink too. It wanted to promote emotional literacy and be able to measure the results. The deputy head, Jacqui Bigwood, explains: "The whole-school approach has to underpin everything. Our staff and students had a very big voice in this, and our student board was heavily involved. They felt very included, very trusted - their opinions were valued."

Pupils at Sholing may interview job applicants. They held a competition to design their own school uniform so the school has few problems enforcing its uniform rules.

Focus days on issues such as disability and diversity are evaluated by staff and pupils. The results are used to measure the effectiveness of the work, as well as to plan events. Involving parents has been another important aspect.

"Recently we have been talking about the timings of the school day. We went out to parents and students and said 'Here are some models. What best suits?' Based on what came back from everybody, we altered our school day.

Everybody was consulted.

"The sort of language we should be using is the language of choices. If there is a behaviour problem, then we are focusing on the behaviours and not the child. It is about the overt teaching of values, relationships, ways to build self-esteem."

Sholing's curriculum is based on pathways in the upper school to cater for pupils with academic or vocational strengths. "That has had a huge impact on self-esteem, especially for the students on the vocational pathway," says Mrs Bigwood. "We also find creative ways of working with disaffected students, including college and work experience. Two of those youngsters have received community awards."

The school extends the same approach to keeping young mothers in school in a city with a very high rate of teenage pregnancy. Staff are offered training on the school's structures and values with positive strategies for behaviour management. Prefects and peer mentors have their own training day, and are available for pupils to talk to in case of problems.

New pupils are offered induction, master classes and taster days to ease their transition to secondary school. The senior management team ensures they are visible and available: they carry out classroom observations to gather evidence for planning and target-setting.

Mrs Bigwood says pupil aspiration has been raised, as can be seen by the numbers now considering university and careers such as law.

Staff turnover is very low and pupils have raised thousands of pounds through charity work. A recent mentoring event, to which parents were invited alongside their children in place of the traditional parents'

evening, saw more than 90 per cent of parents turn up.

The school has a full-time personal development co-ordinator, Sue Field, who works in Sholing's teaching and learning centre (TLC: the double meaning is deliberate) and is at the centre of the school's welfare work.

"She has been with us for about two years," says Mrs Bigwood, "and her appointment has been fantastic for us. She works with individuals on social skills, anger management, and so on, or in groups. Last term she was seeing 50 students a week. She is very approachable and they know that she is available for them."

Last word comes from a note that Sue Field keeps pinned to her office wall from a former pupil. She found it on a returned book.

The note reads: "Thank you for giving me my self-esteem."

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