Glasgow should go for gold and host the Youth Olympics
As the summer holidays rush towards us, I am starting to gather data on 2011-12 performance and plan for where we will go in 2012-13. The new administration is moving into place and Glasgow's many new councillors are learning about their patch and establishing themselves within their communities.
Glasgow is thriving - we know this because, for all the pressures of the economic downturn, the city is increasingly becoming a popular venue for conferences and major sporting events. Through the fantastic efforts of Glasgow City Marketing Bureau we are attracting more events - World Series Track Cycling in 2013, British Swimming Championships in 2014 and World Artistic Gymnastics in 2015. All this has allowed us to be the natural choice for the UK bidding city for the Youth Olympics for 2018.
The Youth Olympics is a sporting event where education and culture are given equal weighting. Competition to be the host city is fierce. We are competing against cities such as Buenos Aires and Rotterdam and we need to find our "unique selling point" (USP) that will wow the selectors.
We have many USPs. We have the most children living in the 10 per cent most deprived postcodes - more than 40 per cent. Too many of our children and young people continue to live with the impact of their parents' addictions to alcohol or drugs. Inward migration and the rising birth rate in the city mean that our primary school rolls are increasing two years ahead of when we predicted.
More than 15 per cent of our children do not have English as their first language. So far this session, more than 1,000 children have arrived from 82 different countries. This year we welcomed our first Namibian child.
We have more teachers than any other authority and our improved approach to recruitment means that we are in the throes of a massive exercise to create permanent primary posts.
Our attainment is rising, exclusions are reducing, attendance is increasing and the proportions of young people going to a positive destination are increasing. More young people than ever before are going to university. We recently welcomed colleagues from Education Scotland into the city to work alongside us to evaluate how well we are achieving our goals. They liked what they saw and the report will be published next week.
Our staff work in the most challenging and potentially the most rewarding of learning environments. As I recently told heads at the Catholic Headteachers' Association of Scotland conference, no one comes to Glasgow because it is an easy shift. We are raising standards and expectations but we continue to have to battle against those who make sweeping assumptions and generalisations about our children.
To combat these assumptions, we are opening our doors and welcoming visitors, as there is nothing more powerful than seeing success first hand. Our learning networks across the city are growing and moving beyond our boundaries. One of our primary schools works with a primary in West Lothian, sharing practice and learning from each other. Another is about to embark on a similar partnership with a school in Edinburgh. We have increasing links with our colleagues in the independent sector, sharing learning opportunities for young people.
One young person in the independent sector wrote after a work placement: "Although parts of my family were brought up in Easterhouse, I had very low expectations of the school, my visions were probably few resources, undisciplined children and a run-down building. However, I am ashamed of myself for making such a judgement . I was proved wrong. From the moment you entered the door, staff and pupils were warm and welcoming, the way a school should be. Each and every pupil displayed extraordinary manners and respect for the `new visitors', which was a delight."
A probationary teacher wrote: "The reason that I am contacting you is to firstly tell you about my fantastic, challenging P6 class made up of every demographic Scotland has to offer but who together make up one of the most intelligent, promising, inspiring group of children that I have ever met in my life. I remember when you . welcomed us into the fold of Glasgow's education services and told us that Glasgow children were special and that you only wanted people working for you who understood that. I understand that now.
"My class comes from a plethora of diverse socio-economic backgrounds and every day is different with them because each child, even at their young age, carries the emotions of their home lives with them into the classroom along with their backpacks every morning. The bubble they live in doesn't really extend beyond the `flats' and the `park' that they live in and around, but their dreams for their futures are fantastic. After tasting success during their `Clyde in the Classroom' fame last term, in which they featured on Reporting Scotland, the Evening Times and BBC1's Breakfast show, their confidence in themselves has grown from strength to strength."
It is a difficult time in education. The perfect storm of no pay increases for staff, changes to pensions, increasing bills at home and constant change in the workplace means staff are rightly cautious and concerned about the future. All the research evidence on bringing about system change and improvement states that you need to be consistent - choose core priorities wisely and stick to them. Any new initiatives should be measured against your core priorities and if they don't contribute to them, then don't do them.
We have resolutely committed to a set of core priorities and relentlessly stuck with them - we will continue to do so and keep the needs of children, young people and staff firmly at the centre.
Maureen McKenna is executive director of education in Glasgow.