Failing boys are their own worst enemy

24th October 2003 at 01:00
'Pupils do not believe they can achieve. Those who do have high personal aspirations keep it to themselves'

Peer group pressure among boys in Clackmannanshire's three secondaries is pulling down attainment, says Tony Gavin, the consultant brought in by the authority to analyse underperformance in national examinations.

At Alloa Academy, teachers are said to be "frustrated by the pupils'

negative attitude to learning", while at Alva Academy pupils themselves "recognise that the peer group pressure among boys in S1 to S4 militates against high achievers".

At Lornshill Academy, the story is similar with pupils acknowledging the pressure on boys from boys. Some were prevented from openly asking the teacher for help in the classroom.

A report by Mr Gavin, retired head of St Margaret's Academy, Livingston, and one of the most respected Roman Catholic heads in the country, is now the basis of an action plan by Clackmannanshire after HMI criticised underachievement in the three secondary schools as part of an authority-wide inspection.

Mr Gavin spent around a week in each school monitoring learning and teaching, classroom practice, teacher and pupil expectations and the factors that underpin improved attainment.

On Wednesday, the council agreed to act on many of his recommendations. It will improve its quality assurance procedures at authority and school level and appoint a specialist monitor to oversee progress. The post will be filled within six weeks.

Other proposals include introducing ways to engage with more pupils and to offer greater challenge to more able pupils. Homework will be improved, disruptive behaviour tackled and professional development and review of all teachers fully introduced.

In his report, Mr Gavin says that peer group pressure at Alloa Academy is not confined to pupils from deprived backgrounds and extends to the majority, although there are "some outstanding exceptions".

He states: "Discussions with pupils suggest that pupils do not believe they can achieve. Those who do have high personal aspirations keep it to themselves. Changing this culture is a serious issue for the school. It requires to be addressed through a well thought out strategy understood by all members of staff.

"Such a strategy will include eliciting and listening to pupil views without necessarily accepting all that they say, raising the school profile in the community, fostering imaginative ways of engaging more parents in the education of their children and raising parental expectations of the school and the service it provides."

At Alva Academy, recent initiatives to raise attainment "have not influenced teacher expectations of pupil performance". At Lornshill Academy, "with some exceptions, teachers do not demonstrate a strong focus on their responsibilities and accountabilities for pupil performance".

Mr Gavin concludes: "This suggests that in the context of a very caring school teachers give low priority to pupil success in public examinations."

He believes the culture at Lorns-hill will be difficult to change. The school will have to offer "real motivation to learn" and a more flexible curriculum. "This school has some excellent and committed teachers capable of such a challenge," he comments.

In all three schools, he highlights strongly teacher-directed, mostly whole-class learning, largely undifferentiated and backed by extensive use of worksheets. There were few opportunities for pupils to take initiative or use ICT in their learning.

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