Always on the agenda

9th June 1995 at 01:00
Kay Smith finds a school where responsible behaviour is the responsibility of all. Caring, sharing, mutual respect, personal responsibility and co-operation are values constantly promoted in the 290-pupil St Rose of Lima Primary in Garthamlock, Glasgow. Yet the school's curriculum is bereft of anything labelled "values education." The headteacher, Mary Doyle, says: "I hate the word 'values'."

One aspect of her school which Mrs Doyle considers of paramount importance is partnership with parents. The word "values", she says, has problematic connotations. Given the traditional culture, in which schools would speak down to parents, it would inevitably imply that, if there was a right and a wrong, the final word rested with the school. But Mrs Doyle says: "We're trying to say to parents that we don't know the answers - especially in this locality. "

Garthamlock is the name of vast acres of problem-laden council houses, difficult to maintain and heat, in an area short on amenities and job opportunities on the north-east side of Glasgow. Seven out of every ten St Rose of Lima pupils receive free schools meals and clothing allowances under Strathclyde Region's arrangements for schools in designated "areas of priority treatment". Parents are inevitably low paid or unemployed, mothers often single. They must be credited, however, with the care they take of their children. "Many of the parents, within the resources they have, do a great job. They have hearts of gold," Mrs Doyle says.

St Rose of Lima has an extensive programme of parental involvement. Over the two terms before the new Primary 1 intake in August a series of visits and talks familiarise new parents and their children with the school. Thereafter parents can enjoy evening social activities in the school and also at a newly refurbished drop-in centre. In addition small groups of parents are encouraged to come into school to meet and talk with staff. A group of "former parents" continues to support the school through fundraising activities.

Towards the end of the autumn term parents also have, during a special "Caring and Sharing" week, a chance to see some manifestations of what is called in St Rose of Lima personal and social education, a title considered less contentious and broader in concept than "values education" and now well defined in the Scottish Office's 5-14 guidelines.

Personal and social education is taught formally in the curriculum through a series of topics. Parents endorse efforts made to warn children of the dangers of alcohol, smoking and drug taking, and to give them strategies to deal with strangers and bullies.

They have more problems, however, in taking on the school's approach to fighting. It is not allowed. "Parents agree that in a school with 290 pupils I have to have a no fighting rule. But they have asked me to understand in the streets that they live in, if you don't fight back, you won't survive," Mrs Doyle explains.

Personal and social education is not just seen in the curriculum: it permeates the life of the whole school. Emphasis is placed on promoting positive behaviour, which through the staff development programme is done on a team basis. "So the children are treated the same way no matter who the teacher is." Positive behaviour is promoted is through an awards scheme whose benefits are best explained by Michelle Bradley, a primary 7 pupil: "We get awards when we do tests and we get them all correct, and when we do well in maths, languages and art work. When I get stickers and awards I feel good about myself and I get more confident about my work and I'm sure other people do too."

Responsible behaviour is encouraged by giving the pupils responsibility. Fallon Hay, another member of Primary 7, says: "Nearly every pupil in St Rose of Lima has a job to do. Primary 7s have the most responsible roles. Some of us monitor the infants at play times and lunchtimes, and we take it in turns to monitor the doors." Another boy added: "We get a lot of responsibility. I think that's good. We work in groups a lot - and we are all friends" He looks puzzled when asked what was meant by the word "values". But he is able to explain the outcome of class "circle time", an attempt to involve all pupils in speaking and sharing and another aspect of Mrs Doyle's attempts to promote attitudes and kinds of behaviour throughout the school. "We give everybody a fair chance to speak out in class," he says. Not a bad value.

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