Chosen to represent Scotland: St Aidan's goes for the Bertelsmann prize
St Aidan's is the only school in the United Kingdom to have been entered for the prestigious (and lucrative) Carl Bertelsmann prize, having beaten off five Scottish contenders. An international jury of educational experts chose education systems in eight countries which it considered had "reformed their administrations in an exemplary manner and have put innovative developments into practice".
The winner will be chosen at the end of a two-day symposium in Guetersloh, Germany, when 700 guests are expected at the award ceremony to discover whether this paragon exists in the Netherlands, Norway, Hungary, Switzerland, New Zealand, North America, Germany - or North Lanarkshire.
John MacBeath, head of the quality in education centre at Strathclyde University, is in no doubt that the 1,300-pupil St Aidan's is a worthy contender. He made the presentation to a seminar in Germany in January justifying why the school had been chosen to represent Scotland.
The Bertelsmann Foundation requires schools to conform to eight criteria designed to show how they express concern for their pupils, handle innovation, develop staff potential, establish innovative school leadership, allow pupils, parents and other agencies to participate in the life of the school, seek co-operation with external decision-makers, improve quality and evaluation, and how the national education system supports all these activities.
Mrs McDonald, a leading member of the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum, says that if St Aidan's wins "it will be as a result of a lot of years of input from a large number of people". Shades of Oscar ceremonies: "I would like to thank . . . " Many of the features of St Aidan's will not be a novelty to many observers. A pupil council, pairing between older and younger pupils, strong leadership, a senior pupils' conference, information for parents, staff participation in decision-making, supported study, joint agency working, self-evaluation.
Mrs McDonald believes her distinctive approach is to "take a whole-school, cross-curricular approach to development". Professor MacBeath noted that, instead of allocating departmental budgets on the basis of equal shares or competitive bidding, half the sum is retained for more general school-wide initiatives.
The St Aidan's head also believes strongly in sharing expertise throughout the school, using her own staff for in-service while not ignoring (as far as budgets allow) the value of outsiders such as those in Professor MacBeath's centre. The emphasis is on "realistic and creative" staff development.
Mrs McDonald says her 80-plus staff are given their head to chair meetings and take responsibility for new developments; young teachers in their first year are given opportunities to lead a seminar or make a formal presentation to fellow staff. The MacBeath report says "leadership roles are open to everyone within the school", although the school acknowledges that senior management must provide the "kick start". Pupils are allowed to contribute to the school development plan via the pupil council and explain the school curriculum to parents on open days. Older pupils can also volunteer to become prefects by writing their own "manifesto" outlining why they should be chosen.
St Aidan's submission to the Bertelsmann Foundation says it does not wish to be seen as "a school which is satisfied with the quality of its educational provision but rather a school which is happy to set out new challenges" It is also a secondary school whose senior management team is probably unique in Scotland: they are all women.