Golden rules make for model practice
Lessons on the rules of engagement in fencing are just part of a morning's work for children in the nursery class at Tillicoultry Primary, where they use foam foils to be en garde with parent and veteran fencer Andy Kettles.
The class was the first in Scotland to be awarded 100 per cent "excellent" grades in all eight areas of quality inspection by the Care Commission, covering care and support, environment, staffing, and management and leadership.
Before the unannounced two-yearly inspection was conducted, staff completed an extensive self-evaluation report covering 18 quality statements and, from the outset, the team of two nursery teachers and two early years workers adopted a positive approach, says headteacher Carol Leddy. They judged their nursery "good" or "very good" on most counts. But when the inspectors came along, their grades were raised to "excellent" on all fronts.
Factors such as participation and partnership are crucial to the success of the nursery experience for the 30 morning and 30 afternoon children here, in the staff's view. The "golden rules", which they drew up together with the pupils and displayed in the nursery, were praised by the inspectors for promoting respect for others.
Partnership with parents also stood out. The parents are very involved and identify strongly with the school. Two of them sit on the parent council and have an active input into policy making and staff appointments.
"The parents are friends," says early years worker Rhona Ferguson. They were highly complimentary and appreciated the team's efforts to attend to the children's needs and to issues beyond the nursery.
The team is always happy to listen to parents' concerns and work with them to resolve any difficulties, says nursery teacher Ann Bunyan. One mother's concern about her child who had expressed a fear of death, for example, was considered by the team in the context of nursery work and raised with Clackmannanshire's educational psychologist, Alison Russell.
"It's great to have advice on how to deal with something like this at different levels, from our own ideas in nursery using books and stories to Alison's suggestions for possible strategies that parents can adopt at home." The strength of this level of team work is recognised and praised throughout the report.
Also recognised was the nursery's positive engagement with the council's advocacy service, which helped one little boy with a hearing impairment and his mother to access specialist local and national support services. It was, said the report, "model practice".
Health and well-being in the nursery class received fulsome praise from the Care Commission, as did Mrs Leddy herself, for overseeing the "excellent practice in an outstanding manner".
The nursery team regards being receptive to the children's needs as fundamental to their success. Even little things, like their realignment of coat-pegs to reduce children's confusion, were cited as illustrations of the relaxed and focused co-operative environment.
While the nursery was praised for fostering a sense of individual identity, the report also stressed the importance of the class's integral role in the life of the whole school.
A shared playground with Primary 1 lets children play together and a "Pals" buddy scheme links P1 and nursery children.
But the "examplary practice in recognising the children, parents and local professionals as resources to assist the development of a learning environment" was illustrated by Mr Kettles' practical fencing session - which was described by the children as "just happy fun".
The staff were apparently "dumbstruck" by the inspectors' report, and "thrilled and amazed". It has, they say, given them a real boost and a renewed sense of commitment to their work.