Co-operation and accountability

27th October 2006 at 01:00
Pentland School employs a variety of systems to maintain its happy and secure family ethos and help ensure learning and teaching in a polite and respectful atmosphere.

Co-operative Learning

The boys in Lorraine Haughey's maths class are learning that good manners are just as important to success as a grasp of times tables. The class is using co-operative learning, a system well developed by North Lanarkshire Council that requires pupils to split into groups. Contrary to traditional groupwork, however, everyone is dependent upon each other and every pupil must be able to take accountability for the answers that are reached.

Co-operative learning is used widely in the school. Crucially, it requires the pupils to place social skills to the fore, alongside their work.

The class of six is split into three pairs - predetermined by Ms Haughey - and asked to agree on team names, which both pupils in each pair have to be happy with. After a brief dispute in one pair about the merits of being known as the Division Dividers, the class is ready.

The pairs break off, repeatedly coming back together to compare progress as a class. All the while, Ms Haughey keeps an eye on how the pairs are working together as much as the answers they are coming up with.

"The way Gary is sitting shows he's not willing to participate," she observes, as the boy in question slouches. Gary, after a little cajoling, pulls himself up and starts setting about the task with renewed enthusiasm.

The pairs are expected to complement each other's progress and cannot rely on a more enthusiatic pupil doing all the work. One boy, Ryan, has had problems in the past that have led to angry outbursts. At times during the class he becomes frustrated and fidgety. His partner, Conner, seems to know to ease off and let Ryan come round in his own time.

When the class ends, as well as having found the answers, each pupil is expected to praise his partner. One pair are overheard: "You're brilliant at your times tables." "So are you." "Thanks for coming up with the snazzy name."

Golden time

Golden time is rigidly meritocratic: it is a system where, if the pupils behave and work well over the week, they can be among the first to pick their favoured activity on Friday afternoon. Behave badly and their chance will never come.

"Golden time is huge here," says class teacher Lorraine Haughey. "The children chose each of the clubs and outings. So they are ultimately working towards a wage at the end of the week."

Ryan has lashed out at classmates in the past. As a result, his points total has often left him fidgeting on his seat while others have their pick of activities. This week, however, Ryan has done well and is one of the first to choose his activity.

He knows exactly what he wants: an afternoon in Kokos leisure centre. The problem is that the number of boys picking Kokos is greater than the number of spaces, so Ryan has to roll a giant die for the chance to go. He rolls a one. He shuffles back to his seat, clearly disappointed, but there is no sign of the type of outburst that used to greet such setbacks.

Later, Ryan is meticulously sanding a wooden box he has made, woodcraft having been his back-up choice. When the school gathers and looks back on the afternoon's activities, with bashful pride, Ryan shows everyone his box and the Saltire he has painted on to it.


David is frank about why he and his friend Kieran are spending part of their lunchtime in a mediation session with the behaviour support teacher, Kathleen Cassidy. "Our behaviour is appalling," he explains.

There are few problems in school, but David (10) and Kieran (9) are near neighbours who, once they get home, seem to exacerbate each other's bad behaviour. They have come to see Mrs Cassidy after a messy incident involving fake blood and police visits.

At the start of the session, both boys signed a contract agreeing to act upon whatever resolution they come up with; the nature of the mediation session is that they must realise the consequences of their behaviour and provide solutions themselves.

At first, David does most of the talking. Kieran is newer to the school and less comfortable; his contributions are barely audible.

Mrs Cassidy asks David whether he would throw fake blood over teachers if Kieran asked him to do it. He is blunt: "This is an honest answer. I would say 'Yeah'. But after this talk, I probably wouldn't."

David suggests a solution: that he and Kieran remain friends in school, but that elsewhere they only say 'Hi' in passing and do not hang around together. He proposes one exception: if he is involved in a game of football with a lot of people, it would probably be OK for Kieran to join in.

Kieran is not so sure. As the mediation session draws to a close, he makes a hard-headed suggestion: "If he's playing football, I shouldn't play. I'm going to walk away."

Mrs Cassidy closes the session after establishing that the boys will act upon Kieran's proposal. David strides around the table to shake Kieran's hand and ruffle his hair.

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