Schools need to think radically to make learning effective for every student, say Brian Boyd and Louise Hayward
In The Education of Able Pupils Primary 6 to Secondary 2, the Inspectorate five years ago challenged schools to ask themselves if they had "an ethos of achievement". Since then, there have been more publications with achievement in their title - Achievement for All, Raising Achievement in S1S2, both from HMI.
In addition, the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum has published a multimedia pack entitled Climate for Learning and the highly influential booklet Teaching for Effective Learning, aimed at classroom teachers and school managers. Thus schools have been urged to develop policies on effective learning and teaching for all pupils, to revisit their aims and to strive to promote learning and celebrate success.
HMI has also part-funded a number of national networks to support schools and councils. Alongside the Ethos Network and the Learning and Teaching Network, the Scottish Network on Able Pupils (SNAP) was established. After consultation with schools, SNAP has developed a set of principles: each person has a unique profile of abilities and has the right to appropriately challenging and enjoyable educational experiences; a wide range of abilities including personal, emotional, intellectual, physical and creative, should be recognised, enhanced and valued equally; learners are inspired to learn effectively in different ways and in different contexts.
This should be recognised through flexible approaches to learning, teaching and organisational arrangements in and beyond the classroom. These approaches should recognise the crucial impact of motivation on each person's ability to learn; educational establishments and organisations should strive to promote an ethos of achievement where the abilities of each person are recognised and celebrated; developing an ethos of achievement will involve collaborative working among parents, pupils, teachers, schools, education authorities and national institutions.
SNAP's activities have now diversified. It produces a regular newsletter, has an impressive, and growing, catalogue of publications, runs a series of courses and seminars (fully accredited).
Schools need to develop a rationale for the creation of an ethos of achievement. For many the best starting point may be to revisit school aims, involving pupils, parents and all of the staff, teaching and non-teaching. In this way, the aims cease to be the sometimes bland, meaningless phrases in the prospectus. Instead, they are the starting point for school development planning, for rigorous and systematic school self-evaluation. Recent research in Scotland suggested that schools which have an ethos of achievement have been prepared to look radically at aims.
But if a shared rationale is to be the basis of an ethos of achievement, teachers need time to reflect on their practice and that of their colleagues, time to read and consider theories of learning and teaching, and time to consider research and to subject it to a critique. Huge strides have been made in our knowledge of the importance of emotional intelligence, multiple intelligences and learning styles. All of this needs to be made accessible, preferably in a staff development context.
In Scotland, all officially funded researchers have to agree to produce an edition of Interchange - a 3,500-word, accessibly written account of the research findings, with questions at intervals to make the text interactive. There have been 51 Interchanges to date, from homework to exclusion from schools, and they arrive in schools in multiple copies. One starting point for this approach may be for schools to use these more extensively on in-service days.
Staff development days are a precious commodity. There are not enough of them if teachers are to do all that is expected, but the quality of the activities has to be high if teachers are to gain real benefit. What is needed is a focus on learning - not targets - and if it can be cross-sectoral and cross-curricular, so much the better.
To support such occasions, SNAP has produced its Creating an Ethos of Achievement pack, the central section of which is a range of suggested structures for in-service days and other staff development slots, offering single-school and cluster models, with detailed suggestions for programmes and group discussions.
The pack has a number of case studies, and SNAP is about to publish snapshots of interesting work going on in schools - as submitted by schools themselves.
But SNAP is more than a series of publications. Above all else it is about the sharing of good practice, reaffirming the many success stories in Scottish schools and helping teachers enhance the learning of all their pupils. SNAP hopes to build on the professionalism of teachers and empower them to become more reflective, to listen to the voices of the pupils and, in turn, enable the young people to become successful, independent lifelong learners. As one pupil said: "I'm a child first, and able second." SNAP strives to "advocate approaches which will promote more effective learning and teaching experiences for every learner, including those with special abilities".
In these days of targets and measures of school effectiveness which focus on examination success, SNAP maintains a position that it is the whole child and a wide range of achievements which really matter. No one in Scottish education is against the setting of targets, and SNAP exists as a network to provide advice on how to make education appropriate to the needs of all pupils, including the most able.
Dr Brian Boyd is the associate director of the Quality in Education centre at the University of Strathclyde. Louise Hayward is assistant principal, St Andrew's College of Education and director of SNAP.