Disaster school that rose again

9th April 1999 at 01:00
HMI has praised Clackmannan for putting in a team that turned round a failing primary in just 18 months, reports David Henderson

TWO YEARS ago, Clackmannan primary was deemed a failing school by HM Inspectors. Last week it was hailed as a shining example.

Its transformation within 18 months from a struggling and leaderless school demonstrates at least one important message, Keir Bloomer, Clackmannan's director of education, says. Local authorities have a definite role once the Scottish parliament is established.

In summer 1997, the 330-pupil primary received one of the most damning reports ever. No aspects were deemed to be very good and leadership was described as unsatisfactory, the lowest possible rating. Inspectors expressed "a number of serious concerns".

But after sweeping changes to senior staff and school policies the Inspectorate has announced it will not need to revisit the school. All eight of its targets have been met.

Archie McGlynn, chief inspector, commends the "significant improvements" to pupils' learning and the school ethos. "As a result of strong staff teamwork and the support of the wider community, Clackmannan primary school now demonstrates a clear sense of purpose and direction," Mr McGlynn states.

Mr Bloomer, vice-president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, commented: "Given the kind of scepticism about the future role of local authorities post-Scottish parliament, the message here is that councils can turn problems around by working in partnership. The school would not have set out on the road to recovery without the intervention of the council."

Margaret Paterson, Clackmannan's education convener, said: "Determined and effective action by the local authority remains the best way of securing improvements in standards. We were a new council when the difficulties became apparent. I had parents complaining to me. We did not duck our responsibilities."

The council removed the former head, Rena Black, and three other staff and brought in Glenda White, former chief inspector in Strathclyde, to draw up a detailed recovery action plan, in effect a one-woman hit squad. Five new staff were drafted in and extra investment was cleared. More management time was created.

Miss White said: "One of the main aims was to remotivate staff because the HMI report had a devastating effect. Staff still had an enormous amount to offer."

One of her first acts was to invite staff, children and the school board to list the positive aspects of the school and build on that.

The plan was already being implemented when Iain Campbell was brought in as the new head in November 1997. Mr Campbell had been head in an Edinburgh primary for 10 months and was appointed because of his "clear vision" for the troubled school.

He tackled discipline first, a weakness identified by HMI. "It was very important that as quickly as possible I could establish some change to make my mark," he said.

A positive discipline policy was introduced, backed by in-service training. Pupils and parents were brought on board. As HMI notes: "School and classroom rules were clearly displayed and pupils had responded positively to the new arrangements. Good steps had been taken to keep parents well informed of the school's expectations. As a result, very marked improvements had been made in pupils' behaviour and the overall ethos of the school."

Lynn Orr, depute head, who was assistant head for the early years under the previous management, says: "There have been massive, massive changes and it is a completely different place to work. The ethos of the school has changed dramatically. The teamwork among the staff and the attitude of the children are excellent."

Mrs Orr believes the discipline policy was a crucial factor. "There is a clear line for the teachers to follow. It's very positive behaviour and children are rewarded for good behaviour at assemblies. Children, I think, feel some sense of ownership and the pupil council has helped a lot."

Mr Campbell also introduced small but significant changes. Pinboards were put up to display pupils' work on corridor and class walls. Miss White comments: "This gives a sense of unity and cohesion throughout the school."

Clackmannan Council says a similar crisis is unlikely to recur and blames the lack of scrutiny in the former Central Region for the unwelcome national headlines two years ago.

Jim Goodall, head of educational development, said: "There is increasing access to a broad body of intelligence about schools. There is a much more systematic approach paid to data about pupil performance. The platform of data will allow you to test certain hypotheses and I think the authority has a pretty strong grasp on the body of intelligence. We do not have to rely on HMI inspections."

South of the border, ministers are relieving authorities of control if schools are shown to be failing pupils. Clackmannan believes MSPs should heed its example.

Platform, page 12

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