A teacher's mission is to get it right for every child

31st August 2012 at 01:00
Everyone in education should also ensure that `Shanarri' indicators are drawn upon and all children achieve their full potential

It is a well-understood axiom that to attain the holy grail of all children and young people in Scotland achieving their full potential, irrespective of their social and economic background, schools cannot work in splendid isolation from other services that have an involvement in health, well-being and learning. Many educators would argue that this is a given; but until now others in the same field suggest that rhetoric and reality have not matched up and full partnership working to achieve integrated outcomes across the Scottish educational landscape is patchy at best.

The writers of the consultation on the Children and Young People Bill are, rightly in my opinion, in this camp. The executive summary states (as a challenge) that if we want successful, confident, effective and responsible citizens, we need to nurture every element of their well-being and this requires a holistic approach to health, education and ensuring safety.

Significantly, the consultation identifies Girfec - Getting it Right for Every Child - as the key driver to achieve the vision, and the Shanarri indicators (safe, healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, responsible, respected, included) are those that will define "well-being". This is a welcome definition and to have it captured in legislation has the potential to create a paradigm shift in education services.

Following an excellent summer school on Girfec, led by the ADES Virtual Staff College a few years ago, I have been of the view that Curriculum for Excellence should be seen as a subset of Girfec. I believe the narrow view often taken in Scotland about Girfec - namely that it is about the most disadvantaged and vulnerable young people and, therefore, somehow separate from the mainstream developments that constitute CfE - was an opportunity lost.

It was lost because, until now, there has not been, in Scotland, a significant and consistent enough recognition in practice by all educators that Girfec is fundamental to our core business of learning. "Positive well-being" is the key to a fulfilling life - part of which includes successful learning. If all educators do not have these well-being indicators at the core of their practice, then they are potentially failing our young people.

Using Maslow's hierarchy of need as a visual construct, it is evident that, before learners get to the point in the hierarchy where they can properly access cognitive learning, they need to attain the underpinning "well-being" levels to create the conditions for effective learning.

In some education circles there has, perhaps, too often been the view that parents, communities and other services are responsible for these "well- being" indicators, and that schools simply step in at the "cognitive learning level" to dispense knowledge to those now ready for action.

Best national practice across education services does, of course, recognise that education has a central role to play in supporting learners at all levels of the hierarchy. However, even when this is accepted in principle, operational concerns have been raised about the role of the "lead professional", "named person" and "child's plan".

The concerns have in part been linked to workload, but there has also been an unspoken tension that the education representative should not be the "lead professional" or "named person", as this is more the responsibility of social work or health. In fact that is not the case and education, as a universal provider to all children and young people, must play a lead role. This is not to make teachers do the job of social workers or health professionals, but to recognise that the job of teaching has evolved. The bill will shape this evolution into legislation.

Certainly, we must acknowledge the workload and cultural challenges that face schools. Primary heads and deputes and secondary pastoral care teams are already acutely busy and probably groaning at the prospect of being deemed lead professionals for their entire caseload; it would require them potentially to lead on liaising with all other services, as well as on the "child's plan".

We should not underestimate these concerns. Nor should we gloss over them with the platitude that "it's simply about re-prioritisation and different work patterns". The latter point is valid, but to make it happen requires extensive support, training and understanding of the challenge. We also need to appreciate that other services are adapting to the change. For example, Central Scotland Police has comprehensively "bought into" Girfec, to the point that every officer in the Larbert Hub has his or her own copy of the Shanarri wheel above their desk, to which they continually refer when considering cases involving young people.

For all of us, there is a significant impact in managing the change required to achieve the vision in the draft bill. We need to consider initial teacher education, continuing professional development, revised pastoral care models of support in schools, and most importantly we need to challenge the prevailing cultural norm of what a teacher's job is all about.

The key point is that, when the bill becomes law, the job of every person working in education will be to get it right for every child and to play a full part in ensuring that all of the Shanarri indicators are in place - because young people will have this right enshrined in legislation. At this point, Girfec will fully assert its rightful place in Scottish education and, if we manage it properly, the changes to, and improvement in, the education system introduced by Curriculum for Excellence will be taken a stage further by its, until now, neglected big brother.

Andrew Sutherland is director of education in Falkirk.

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