Schools around Scotland have opened up another Aladdin's cave of innovative projects, says Judith Gillespie.
IF MARK TWO blockbusters in the cinema are usually pale imitations of the original, the same cannot be said about Success Stories II. Following the first 1995 conference and catalogue which highlighted innovations in schools throughout Scotland, the Scottish Parent Teacher Council and Association of Directors of Education have joined forces for a rerun in Dundee on February 26-27.
As last time, we have had just on 200 projects from throughout Scotland and what an Aladdin's cave of goodies they amount to. These projects go beyond the current obsession with numbers to give a real insight into what is happening in the classroom.
I loved the Aberdeenshire teacher who wrote of a mini-enterprise project:
"My aim was to develop important interpersonal skills, with us all working towards a common goal . . . Their aim was to raise money to improve the playground." Surely, this is the essence of good teaching - to know where you are going, and bring the pupils along by whatever route.
Then there is the marvellous reported comment from one young team member who berated her colleagues during a Glasgow schools maths challenge:
"Right, youse two. We've done wur two - noo youse two hurry up an' dae your two."
Success Stories II is also about challenging stereotypes. Who would expect a project supporting Sixth Year Studies chemistry to come from Glasgow or that a programme to support the needs of black and ethnic minorities would be from rural schools in South Ayrshire? Indeed, who would expect Glasgow, which all too often features at the bottom of league tables, to be so abuzz with innovative ideas - particularly many collaborative schemes both within sectors and across sectors?
On another tack, special needs is moving on beyond straightforward educational integration to recognise the need for social integration. Here there are number of exciting examples such as the lunch club in Wallace High, Stirling which aims to promote friendships between special needs and mainstream pupils through shared social activities.
As for the world of work, it must take some dedication to embark on a project which is aimed at "raising pupils' awareness of the construction industry as a viable employment opportunity", but that is what is happening in East Dunbartonshire where, to quote the submission, the curriculum centre at Clydebank College deserves a mention for its "sheer enthusiasm and success with pupils of all ages". This joins other examples from around the country where youngsters are being convinced of the excitement of working with design and technology.
We also have projects that will bring a light to the eyes of the most "standards-raising" HMI. There are the Clackmannanshire reading project and a baseline testing programme from Edinburgh. But there are also simpler ideas for stimulating literacy and numeracy. In Stirling, pupils get to take home a brightly coloured bag containing a fiction book, a related non-fiction book, model figures to bring the books to life and parent prompt cards to get parents involved. A "play-along" maths project from Orbiston nursery in North Lanarkshire also aims to involve parents in their children's learning.
As for information technology, please form an orderly line behind me to contact St Kenneth's primary in Inverclyde where the headteacher and staff are all computer literate. Not surprisingly, they have their entire school wired up to a network. It is encouraging to see how many schools, both primary and secondary, are finding their way on to the Internet.
I have to give particular mention to Firth school in Orkney where a local farmer tipped off the school that it could get money from an environmental charity to promote education about the safe disposal of waste in landfill sites. The school then bought a G3 computer, a View Sonic monitor, an Epson Color 850 printer, a scanner, a digital camera, a 33.6K modem and Claris Homepage. Who said there's a lack of enterprise in Scottish education?
Meanwhile from North Lanarkshire we have the wonderful anachronism of Latin on the Internet. This programme is about addressing the needs of S6 students who are about to move on to degrees in law and medicine and for whom some grounding in Latin would be a great help.
I liked the idea of raising pupils' self-esteem by organising proper graduation ceremonies for primary 7 pupils, complete with gowns, certificates and two formal invitations home. And our national football team may have struggled a bit in the World Cup, but if the various Inverclyde sports projects are successful tennis and rugby could be national games for the next generation.
Add in projects on drug education, peer support and mentoring, environmental improvement, positive discipline, co-operative teaching, community links, citizenship, fire safety, parent links, supporting pregnant girls, local heritage and Europe and you have plenty of evidence that enthusiasm and innovation abound in schools. Surely it is this, rather than any numerical comparisons, that gives Scottish education its edge.
Judith Gillespie is development manager of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council.