'Affluence does not dictate success'

7th December 2012 at 00:00
Education Scotland leader calls for shift in perception of `good' and `bad' schools

Scottish education is still held back by rigidly held beliefs about what makes a good or bad school, a strategic director at Education Scotland has warned.

Craig Munro highlighted "an unspoken belief, sometimes never expressed" that the affluence of an area dictates the success of the schools within it.

Scottish education was still dogged by an assumption that a school in a well-off area is a "good school unless we know otherwise", while one in an area seen as disadvantaged was a "poor school unless we know otherwise".

"People believe that by where they live, by definition, they're in a poor school - we have to crack that on the head," said Mr Munro, who was addressing a conference run by the Scottish Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society (SELMAS).

This was unfairly demoralising for teachers in certain schools who were in fact making good progress: crude comparisons of exam results across schools might suggest some were not doing well, but these did not account for the trajectory of children's progress as they reached secondary.

"There are schools in deprived areas adding value and schools in very affluent areas reducing value", whereas a glance at exam results could give the opposite impression, Mr Munro said.

He stressed the importance of "a language of success that customers understand beyond pass rates", as well as the pernicious impact on teachers of measuring success in this way: "If I'm told by my boss that I'm not doing a good job, that has an effect on me. Our job is to motivate."

Mr Munro, formerly Fife's head of education, was wary of international comparisons, specifically the constant trumpeting of Finland's success.

Finland was "brilliant" at the selection and recruitment of teachers, but there was "something about the pedagogy and systems in there that's leading to people not being switched on". He suggested that, in Curriculum for Excellence, Scotland had something of its own to be "passionate about".

There were also countries, Mr Munro pointed out, where apparently superb exam results masked poor entrepreneurial skills.



"Young kids are `exquisitely tuned' to what adults think their potential is," Carol Craig, director of the Centre for Confidence and Well-being, told delegates at the SELMAS conference.

Dr Craig reiterated the views of US psychologist Carol Dweck, whose research has highlighted dangers in bringing up children to believe that intelligence is fixed.

If children were praised in a way that implied their aptitude for learning was inherent, Dr Craig said, "that becomes a millstone around (their) necks and they become terrified to fail".

Internationally, she had found no link between academic success and self- esteem, she said: low self-esteem appeared to be no impediment to doing well at school.

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