Award nights are not just for film stars

18th February 2005 at 00:00
Hollywood may have us believe that perfection in life does exist. The flawless complexions, the characters of unimpeachable integrity and the happy ending, all distilled into two glorious hours. How I wish running a secondary school came with a guaranteed assurance of achieving it.

With the quest for ambition and excellence in our schools, the Scottish Executive has, in a sense, thrown down the gauntlet for all of us.

Aim for perfection: your pupils deserve it.

This week I may have experienced it. I sat enraptured as the Royal Scottish National Orchestra delivered an eclectic musical treat. The general audience reaction was ecstatic and I felt I had witnessed a near flawless performance, with teamwork, timing and leadership delivering quality, showing empathy with the audience and each individual taking responsibility. These elements are not dissimilar to what may create a quality school, with a quality classroom experience between pupils and teacher.

I measured this against another inspiring evening I enjoyed as 2004 petered out. For many in Scotland, eyes would have been glued to television screens on that particular evening. Footballers from Milan - world famous in their chosen field, millionaires with the allure and glamour of repeated success at the highest level - had come to Glasgow. However, for some of us at St Paul's High, our eyes were on a different ball.

In addressing flexibility in the curriculum and attempting to meet pupils'

needs more appropriately, the school has been working with the Princes'

Trust for some years. The input from the council's community education department - now referred to as culture and leisure - has been immense and constant, as has been the support of staff from the trust.

The journey has not been without tears, as the learning input and the teaching styles required for this initiative to succeed are at variance with the normal routines of the traditional classroom. Resilient learners, however, stick to the task.

Our current S4 group had stuck so well to it that they were shortlisted for a national award. The presentation event may not have had the glitz of the perfect world of Hollywood but it did more for me and everyone else who attended than the plastic recognition in which our self-congratulatory stars luxuriate.

The group had been involved in developing a children's playground. They had worked on the planning, design, building and on to completion. To be shortlisted for a Prince's Trust award was superb.

Only on the evening did I realise just how far this group - and not only the pupils but also their leaders, teachers and parents - had travelled.

Our pupils were the only school group to have reached this stage. The competing project teams, both from the north-east, were young people aged between 18 and 25.

In a sense, coming first didn't really matter. Our pupils had already won.

They had achieved beyond all expectation. They had surprised themselves and, I'm sure, some of their classroom teachers.

The award went elsewhere, deservedly. Our huge success was in being shortlisted at all.

Additionally, all of us from St Paul's High mixed with young people from across the land who, individually and collectively, had overcome major problems and disadvantage to succeed beyond their dreams.

Where this sits with being an ambitious, excellent school I'm not entirely clear. To an outside scrutineer the impact may not be measurable and therefore invalid. I'm encouraged, however, that there is a broadening understanding that these types of pupil experiences are central to the underlying philosophy behind current thinking.

Inclusion has taken a battering recently, but anyone at that Prince's Trust ceremony would have seen it in action. Not only was I proud to be with my own pupils and colleagues, I was equally proud to be in the same auditorium with people of outstanding depth and strength.

The First Minister and some well known broadcasting personalities graced the evening. Not bad for pupils from Pollok to enrich Jack McConnell's evening by presenting themselves to him. Nice also to see them enjoying snacks and drinks with the famous.

The Milanese millionaires played out a dull no score draw in Glasgow. I drove home from the awards ceremony with a smile on my face. I'm sure I was not alone.

Rod O'Donnell is headteacher of St Paul's High, GlasgowIf you have any comments, email

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