Doomed to under achieve

20th March 1998 at 00:00
One in two teachers admits not enough is done to set challenging standards for pupils

Ground-breaking research commissioned by the Scottish Office into improving school effectiveness has revealed "worrying" teacher attitudes towards pupils' learning. The pound;460,000 study shows that secondary teachers are particularly pessimistic about children's potential.

The findings, so far unpublished, are based on a survey of 1,941 secondary and 638 primary teachers in 80 schools. They indicate that only 31 per cent of secondary teachers believe their pupils can be successful, compared with 61 per cent of primary teachers. Yet 75 per cent of the secondary sample and 87 per cent of the primary also believe pupil success is "crucial" in producing an effective school.

A remarkably low 61 per cent of secondary teachers agree with the statement that all children can learn, against 87 per cent of primary staff. More than 90 per cent believe this is a crucial factor.

Stewart Jardine, the former chief inspector for quality assurance in Strathclyde who has been a consultant to the project, suggests the findings underline the importance of having a clearer definition of learning and attainment, particularly as the Government embraces new school targets and improved performance as key priorities.

The figures are based on a 1995 survey that was updated two years later. They show modest improvements on a number of the negative scores, by 5-6 per cent. Mr Jardine says teachers show "a more positive outlook" than two years ago.

But he described as "worrying" the prospects for the Government's strategy of raising expectations to improve pupil performance against a background in which only 51 per cent of secondary teachers say every attempt is made to set challenging standards for pupils. Again, more than 90 per cent agree that this is crucial.

Speaking to secondary heads at the annual spring conference of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland on Tuesday, Mr Jardine said the research confirmed that an effective school stresses learning and teaching, sets a good tone and ethos for staff and pupils, and involves development planning - all backed by clear aims, beliefs and values. The leadership of the head was "paramount".

Mr Jardine said the study also demonstrated the importance of a broad definition of attainment. "On its own, it is meaningless. Strategies to raise attainment must be linked to achievement which includes the development of personal and interpersonal skills, collaborative working and positive attitudes. Pupils' personal and social skills are as important as their academic attainment."

He was backed by Michael O'Neill, director of education in North Lanarkshire, who told the heads' conference (below) that the key to raising attainment lay in boosting pupil self-confidence, self-esteem and motivation, particularly those from deprived areas. "This means having a broad interpretation of achievement which includes sporting and artistic endeavour, which themselves can contribute to success in academic areas," Mr O'Neill said.

Mr Jardine says the research, which was headed by the Quality in Education Centre at Jordanhill and the Institute of Education at the University of London, highlighted the importance of staff development. This meant giving teachers time to "talk, collaborate, reflect".

He said: "Staff development has been the soft underbelly of education, vulnerable to cuts. Yet if this attrition continues, teaching will simply become sterile because they will simply carry on doing what they have always done."

Mr Jardine said that effective learning required teachers to ask themselves questions such as "how do I develop myself?"; "what perspectives do I get on my practice?"; "how am I adaptable and responsive to learners?"; "how do I demonstrate to young people that I respect and trust them?"; "what single thing could I do now to get more satisfaction from teaching?"; and "what single action could I take now which would bring about improvement in the classroom?"

WHAT THEY SAID

* 58 per cent of secondary and 74 per cent of primary teachers agree that staff regularly discuss ways of improving pupils' learning.

* 48 per cent of secondary and 68 per cent of primary teachers agree that pupils respect their teachers.

* 57 per cent of secondary and 73 per cent of primary teachers agree new staff are well supported.

* 35 per cent of secondary and 59 per cent of primary teachers agree that staff participated in important decision-making.

* 45 per cent of secondary and 59 per cent of primary teachers agree staff development time is used effectively.

* 53 per cent of secondary and 81 per cent of primary teachers agree that parents are encouraged to become involved in the school.

* 65 per cent of secondary and 81 per cent of primary teachers agree pupils' success is regularly celebrated.

* 33 per cent of secondary and 57 per cent of primary teachers agree that management openly recognises teachers when they do things well.

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