Bouquet of the week

18th September 1998 at 01:00
It's all about empowering pupils," says Gail Vanes, winner of Friday magazine's Bouquet of the Week. "Empowerment and discipline", she says, have driven dramatic changes since she became headteacher of Marlborough Junior School, Birmingham, in September 1996.

Empowerment inspires an active school council, circle times in class and playground improvements devised by the pupils; discipline flexes its muscles in a new school uniform, homework clubs, and "lots and lots of policies and lots and lots of schemes of work". The results? The school is oversubscribed, key stage 2 tests have zoomed up: the percentage gaining level 4 or above in science has doubled from 21 to 42 per cent. Maths and English are also steadily improving.

Most pupils at Marlborough, in inner-city Smallheath, have English as a second language. Mrs Vanes is looking forward to using the literacy hour, profiled this week on page 20 in our Subject of the Week pages, to improve what for some is "pidgin" English. Even more important, she feels, is "finding everyone's talent", so that learning spells success for all.

An innovative programme called Design for Living weaves together all the cross-curricular topics in the national curriculum and uses them to develop children's powers of reasoning, listening and conflict-resolution. The programme, devised by Mrs Vanes and her staff, is timetabled each week as the key to involving all the school in projects and discussions, like initiatives to clean up litter or work with local businesses.

Dr Masson, the Birmingham schools adviser who nominated Mrs Vanes, says she has created a good ethos. "Relationships are good. The school environment is delightful. She has raised children's self-esteem and motivated them to learn." Mrs Vanes sees it more simply: "I came into education because I wanted to change the world and I thought this is the way to do it."

Enthusiasm for science also flourishes in the pages of John Gribbin's Almost Everyone's Guide to Science, our book of the week on page 8. Gribbin, like all great teachers, makes mind-bogglingly difficult ideas seem natural and easy. Don't have the time to read? Read Chris Johnston on page 8 to find out how to stretch every moment - and then join the latest trend of love-to-read teachers profiled on page 4.

Bouquet of the Week is given in association with Marks Spencer. Names, please, on a postcard - and why - to Sarah Bayliss, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY

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