Glasgow takes up the challenge of failure

6th December 1996 at 00:00
"Miles better" Glasgow is miles worse in its exam results. The fact that no one comments on the city's place at the bottom of the heap is the clearest testimony to age-old problems. But one of the brighter features of the new local authority structure is the city's refusal to take refuge in history.

Social problems may be a reason for poor performance but they cannot be allowed to stand in the way of determination to improve. Repeatedly in our column "25 Years Ago" there is reference to endemic teacher shortage in Glasgow and to part-time education of pupils. Surrounding areas of Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire shared in the problems in those days, but the inheritance is principally Glasgow's. The economic and social reasons do not need rehearsal. Nor does an associated fact: some of the best and most dedicated of teachers have given their lives to the children of Glasgow.

It was and is much more demanding to teach in a deprived school than in one serving a leafy suburb. The level of satisfaction, and on the other hand the toll, from taking on the job are also well attested to. Ken Corsar, the city's education director, coupled recognition of the level of pupil underperformance with praise for the dedication of school staff. It is not possible to shelter behind Glasgow's problems. To do so would be to condemn children to a poorer future than is open to those elsewhere in the country. Therefore even right-wing commentators who denounce Glaswegians as shoulder-shrugging subsidy junkies must accept that civic leaders now want to raise grass-roots performance as well as the public image. Problems are not an excuse but a challenge.

Malcolm Green, the education convener, put it most starkly by demanding that pupils work harder to achieve results and that they be motivated to realise the benefits of success. Supported study is one way ahead. All secondary pupils have consistently to produce homework if they are to do well. For many the domestic obstacles are formidable. Therefore, as in so much else, the school must provide where families cannot. That is why after-hours study in school was instituted and has proved so successful. Standard grade results show the fruits.

It was Glasgow schools that reacted most strongly against the first exam league tables. The inequities remain but as Mr Corsar put it, there can be no "counsel of despair". In exam performance Glasgow is unlikely to rival East Renfrewshire and East Dunbartonshire, which bear off the palm for council-wide performance. But tables that measure relative achievement in a way the Government's do not are being used by the city. They offer attainable challenges for teachers and pupils. Already there has been progress. Praise rather than condemnation to the bottom of a heap will bring more.

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