Consultants? They are all around us

19th December 2003 at 00:00
Trends in education are often eyed caustically. They surface, flourish and, often, they vanish.

Consultancy is a fairly recent development. Lucrative for the consultant, expensive for schools in a global sense but arguably value for money if audience participation can be maximised - perhaps on a cluster basis.

Sombre thoughts for a piece written as schools across Scotland herald the great feast of Christmas, but they are inspired by activities and events over the last weeks. If analysed, they would all be placed under the umbrella title of "ethos".

Ten years ago the word was hardly uttered in relation to school life. Now it is embedded. It has fuelled an industry of consultants only too willing to spread expertise. Ethos may appear to most practitioners an indefinable element but that does not discourage experts from handing down wisdom to schools on how best to define it.

Expert opinion would focus on all aspects that, in a planned and cohesive fashion, create an acceptable learning environment. Pupils and teachers would be more direct. What happens on a daily basis to make school life work? Some elements are doubtlessly planned. Others appear haphazard - but affect people's feelings and attitudes. Each school has an ethos which is unique, and individual to its pupils, parents and staff. It will be impossible for others to copy.

This month of December has presented all schools with similar opportunities. It will have allowed each to follow its own inclination.

As the doors close for Christmas, what memories do pupils and staff carry with them - has the school grasped the seasonal chance fully and with a spirit of joy in its community?

In St Paul's High the approach of Christmas is not seen as an "add on" or a preparation for the time of excess that the great feast has become. It is a timeless period where certainties allow for the whole month to have a clear focus and for that focus to be aimed at December 25.

Pupils have spent mentoring time looking beyond themselves. Each week "Love in a Box" has engaged them in giving to others in small instalments, where the principle is more important than the gift. Behind the scenes, outstanding staff encouraging, understanding and supporting.

The sparkle of Christmas has not been overlooked. The main entrance has a beautiful crib and a twinkling tree, and decorations festoon open areas, classrooms and offices. Huge pupil input behind the scenes - outstanding staff encouraging, understanding and supporting.

Each day of Advent our daily prayer, broadcast to the school community by pupils and staff, has touched on the approaching feast. Our electronic noticeboard has taken the school through the Christmas story. All repeated annually but still bringing a depth to the school community that is fresh and new. And creating memories for pupils that will last long in their lives.

Yet there have to be highlights - the events in any school that make this year different. From a long list I select three. I have previously referred to our policy on pupil success, implicit in which is a strong reward system. In November I received a phone call from the authority supporting the reward system with an offer of 456 tickets for a city pantomime. What followed was a memory - an occasion for everyone lucky enough to be involved.

It was a fabulous morning. Pupils and staff learning together through fun and excitement - and seeing each other in a completely new light. A huge experience for our pupils - and behind the scenes, outstanding staff encouraging, understanding and supporting.

Switch to a Saturday in December, 50 senior pupils giving up several hours to stand collecting for research into motor neurone disease. If there is one area where teachers need no reminding, it is in appreciating the generosity of young people. This example is set in a Christmas context but is repeated daily throughout the year in all our schools.

The final highlight was our Christmas service. Traditionally it is celebrated in our entrance area. Lights are off, candles are lit and our school community gathers in a variety of ways - seated, on the floor, on the stairs. It is our unique way of opening up to the meaning of Christmas.

It also gives me a public route for appreciating the work done by all staff - teaching, support, janitorial - and for thanking pupils for the daily gifts they bring.

Throughout December ethos has been at the centre of school life. The word itself has never been mentioned. Trendsetters, experts and consultants? They walk our corridors every day. They sit in our classrooms. They inspire children, often unknowingly, at every turn. Throughout Scotland, they are our pupils and teachers.

Seasons greetings to them all.

Rod O'Donnell is headteacher at St Paul's High, Glasgow.If you have any comments, e-mail

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