Care and concern for all

8th June 2001 at 01:00
Positive ethos takes on global meaning for everyone at Haddington Infant school, winner of the Scottish Schools Ethos Award, reports Denyse Presley

On entering Haddington Infant school in East Lothian, which is this year's winner of the Scottish Schools Ethos Award, you are instantly struck by the strong sense of community. The school is unusually large for its type, with 44 staff and more than 400 children from nursery to P3.

Montaged photographs in clip frames celebrate the children's achievements locally, while an architect's drawing of a school is framed by more photographs and messages - from Brazilian street children. These attest to their sense of being part of not only the local community but also the worldwide community.

Any scepticism about Haddington Infant's plans to build a school near the north-east Brazilian port city of Recife, more than 1,000 miles from Rio de Janeiro, is soon dispelled. Class teacher Robert Whiteside says: "It seemed like a pipe dream initially but when we costed it all, we realised it wasn't impossible. So far we've raised pound;4,000.

"The school is 75 per cent complete. The electrical and plumbing work should be completed during the summer. But the school is already being run from a garage until the building is ready. Basically they need a roof, four walls and some facilities, which is costing about US$7,500, so it's not as prohibitive as you would think.

"There is a qualified primary school teacher available and the average wage for a professional teacher is pound;80 per month. If we can maintain an average fund-raising over the year of pound;80 a month plus, then we'll be able to provide a full-time teacher."

Mr Whiteside sees the initiative as an educational project rather than as a charity venture: "P3 are learning about the rainforest on which the school borders. I've been there and they love hearing stories about monkeys and so on.

"We're in the process of networking the school, so soon the children will be able to have e-mail penpals.

"In addition to the moral and religious education, the children gain enormous self-esteem from knowing they're helping less fortunate children."

Throughout the school, the children's work is displayed prominently, carefully mounted and captioned to underline the respect it is given.

The school demonstrates how a sense of personal and social responsibility feeds from adults to children. Each classroom has a telephone, beside which a large prompt card encourages the pupils to answer the phone confidently. Each day, one child is charged with the responsibility of calling the school office with the dinner numbers.

Probationer teacher Julie Brown is the school's anti-bullying co-ordinator. While bullying is not a big problem, she is introducing a buddy scheme which will give the P3 pupils greater social responsibility. "P3s will befriend P1s by showing them games, which will give the P1s confidence in the playground. We plan to paint a friendship bus stop in the playground so that the little ones know where to go to find a friendly face," she explains.

In the playground, a giant octopus showing single phonic sounds is one of the educational games painted by the parent-teacher association. The group has also created gardens, which the children tend.

The pound;2,000 cash prize which accompanies the Ethos Award silver quaich, will be used to create a sensory garden which - in keeping with the school's emphasis on inclusion - wil benefit the entire school, not just the special educational needs pupils it is aimed at primarily.

Alongside the social and environmental experiences, professional concern to ensure effective attainment in conventional areas of the curriculum continues. National tests and school inspections show that the pupils perform well in relation to national standards. The teachers liaise closely with the "big" primary school on curriculum matters, and to ease the children's transition, P3 pupils create a passport which includes personal information and details about their educational journey so far. They then complete it in P4.

Headteacher Lorna Macleod praises her staff. "We talk about resources but staff are the most important resource," she says. "So when the staffroom was refurbished, I ensured that the environment we created was relaxing and enjoyable."

Stylish curtains decorate the windows and there is a spacious kitchen. A whiteboard dominates one wall and is used to communicate a variety of information including urgent matters, diary notes and social events. Each staff member - not just teachers but lollipop people and cleaners too - has a pigeonhole into which weekly newsletters and staff notes are posted. Management team meetings are held weekly and all are welcome.

After the agenda and minutes, a typical management meeting ensures the week ahead is planned, so diaries can be synchronised. Esteem is then boosted by an evaluation session in which everyone is positive about some activity or project relating to the school, even something such as a worksheet which proved valuable on a trip to botanic gardens.

Perhaps because the teachers work closely with the management team, there is no fear of classroom observation sessions. There are set criteria for measuring performance, so the sessions become positive experiences with plenty of feedback. Work shadowing is also possible under the school's sharing expertise policy.

Mrs Macleod boasts that many of the development initiatives the school has adopted were originated by unpromoted staff. The anti-bullying scheme, circle time for class discussions, and Innerwick visits, where P2 pupils go camping, all began with well-researched proposals by teachers. "It is excellent for furthering professional development," enthuses Mrs Macleod.

"In the case of circle time, the teacher in question attended conferences, researched resources, wrote and presented the policy to staff. She also held a couple of in-service sessions and then redrafted the proposal after consultation with staff."

Mary Simpson, head of the Scottish Schools Ethos Award judging panel, explains why Haddington Infant school has won. "The quality of the entries is going up but the quality of the relationships and of what they are doing demonstrates that they are not practising tick box evaluation. They are using all their human resources to promote meaningful responsibility. Because much of the work is undertaken by unpromoted staff, they really stood out."

Mrs Macleod explains how the school's strong ethos has developed. "I have a vision that my school is to be a centre of early years excellence. When I was a class teacher I cared about the class environment, that the work was well presented, displays were exciting and activities available, just like all the classrooms in this school. When I became head of Haddington Infant school I wanted my whole school to be as my classroom was."

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