Cash boost helps pupils hang in there
It's a problem other school leaders would be glad to have. But deciding what to do with pound;25,000 that came to her school unexpectedly wasn't easy, says Anne Marie McNair, headteacher at Cathkin High, South Lanarkshire.
"Working with our education authority, which identified the opportunity, we put together a successful bid to UK Steel last summer," she said. "We'd no idea that we would get that much money. It's allowed us to support youngsters to overcome some of the barriers that keep them from achieving."
Raising the Bar, the project devised to use the funding, is aimed at three distinct groups of pupils, said depute head Robert Doig.
"First there are kids who come back for fifth year, find it's not what they expect and disengage," he said. "They're then lost to the system and they find it hard to get work."
A scheme including personalised Asdan vocational courses was devised and run last session for 15 pupils. "It worked so well that, this year, we have 40 pupils on the programme," said Ms McNair.
"We've even got a little extra funding for it from UK Steel. "If you're fortunate enough to get extra money nowadays, you usually have to spend it within the financial year. But children's needs are many, complex and individual, and a school needs flexibility to deal with them, which is what this funding gave us."
Pupils voting with their feet have demonstrated the success of the fifth- year vocational programme, said Mr Doig. "Staying-on rates after Christmas, and from fourth to fifth year, are well up. We'd have expected 200 pupils going into fifth year, for instance, but we actually got 234. It's word of mouth. They're hearing that we're offering something worthwhile and engaging.
"What used to happen with fifth-year pupils aiming for two to three Highers or Intermediates was that they'd become disillusioned with other subjects which were just filling their timetable. That filtered through to the subjects they did need. It's hard to go from one class with your foot off the pedal to another where you need to work."
The converse effect can now be seen, said Ms McNair, with enthusiasm for the vocational courses improving attitudes all round and carrying over to academic subjects. "It's what Curriculum for Excellence is all about - devising a curriculum that's accessible and appealing to all youngsters."
Two other groups of pupils prone to underachievement in past years were targeted by Raising the Bar - those at the primary-secondary transition and third-year Standard grade CreditGeneral pupils (see panel). Games- based learning was the focus of activities for the younger pupils. "We'd been using brain-training and other computer games to develop their thinking skills, literacy and confidence in learning," said Mr Doig. "The extra funding allowed us to extend that throughout the learning community, with roadshows around the primary schools. We also set up a Glow group to pull it all together."
Disparate activities are united by a common philosophy, says Ms McNair. "It's all about giving youngsters time to learn what suits them, in a way that they enjoy. Confidence is the key. You have to make them feel it's all right to say `I don't understand,' and `This is what I want to learn'.
"If they feel good about their learning, they'll do the legwork, they'll put in the studying and they will get better."
UK Steel Enterprise helps in economic regeneration and development of areas affected by changes in the steel industry. It assists small businesses to grow and create job opportunities, and supports "other organisations with similar aims".
"Oh great - it's maths next period" is a sentiment seldom heard in Scotland's schools. But pupil-friendly methods in the subject are nothing new at Cathkin High, says principal teacher Dave Clark.
"We've been supporting fourth-year pupils with after-school sessions," he says. "They worked well, so when we got this extra funding we decided to offer them in third year, where they'd be even more effective."
The weekly after-school sessions are very different in tone and content to conventional lessons, say the pupils. "They're much more relaxed for a start," says Charlotte Crozer, who is entering fourth year. "You can even have a cup of tea at them.
"I like how you get to talk to the teacher. In a big class you feel selfish if the teacher spends time with you, because others need help too. But with this, you don't mind asking him to look at your work and tell you where you're going wrong."
Getting to choose topics for the sessions appeals to classmate Jack Cumming. "The teacher asks what you're struggling with, then he goes over that, talks it through with you and shows you the right way. Maths wouldn't be my favourite subject. But it gives you a really good feeling when you get things right."
Smaller classes, a relaxed atmosphere and imaginative resources are the key to making after-school maths work well, says Mr Clark. "We bought textbooks with lots of colour from publishers TJ. The pupils really like them. We bought a digital projector so we could use resources on the internet.
"Nrich is a nice one that's free. So is Count On. I like the look of MyMaths.co.uk but you have to pay for that. The after-school sessions are relaxed, but they are not about just having fun; they are tutorials. We want to keep on offering them if we can. They really work."