FIVE schools that recently received glowing tributes from the HMI all had key features in common, Bill Clark, head of the inspectorate's quality division, told a conference in Perth last week.
They all focused on learning and teaching, employed a variety of teaching approaches, applied thinking skills, set targets, tracked progress and used information technology. It was a "non-prescriptive" list individual teachers and whole schools used to raise attainment.
The famous five are St Modan's High, Stirling; Beath High, Cowdenbeath; Ferguslie primary, Paisley; St Peter's primary, Galashiels; and Leith primary.
"None of these schools is in a leafy suburb, all have social and economic deprivation but they are all improving in terms of learning outcomes," Mr Clark said. Leadership was also a critical factor, not only among headteachers but heads of department and senior managers. Frank Lennon, head of St Modan's had provided "inspirational leadership", he said.
Mr Clark told the conference on education action plan schools that teachers needed to raise expectations and the pace of learning between primary 4 and primary 7, as the HMI maths report, published this week, emphasises (above).
Teachers should challenge abler pupils and tackle underachievement among boys. If they did that, they would reach their targets and lift attainment "quite significantly".
He believed teachers had ample good practice to draw on and were "not working in the dark".
Len McConnell, head of service in Perth and Kinross, said it had used theaction plan to "get off the hamster wheel" and share effective practice. Perth Grammar and its three associated primaries had concluded that the expressive arts had built self-esteem and a positive ethos with spin-offs for the whole curriculum.
* Willie Campbell, head of Bo'ness Academy, confirmed that some secondary staff still had problems with 5-14 levels and had not "internalised" information as they had at Standard grade. This led to disputes in S1.
But Margaret Cullen, an experienced primary teacher, took on the role of 5-14 co-ordinator as part of Falkirk's action plan and helped change views. She found primary assessments produced the same levels as "setting" exercises carried out by individual departments.
She came across "inefficient processing" of primary levels and very low expectations of S1 pupils. Some were being brought back to infant stages. "There was also a lack of awareness of pupils' academic needs and of what some pupils are capable of doing. You have to look at your S1 intake and look at the levels they have achieved, find appropriate materials and methods for teaching," she said.
* Peter Wright, action plan co-ordinator at Viewforth High, Kirkcaldy, said a partnership with St Andrews University had led to significant changes in attitudes to further and higher education. Twenty-four pupils were given targets for Standard grades and Highers and spent a residential week at the university, either at Easter or over the summer.
Only two were keen on post-school education before but 22 after.