Happy, shiny people?

23rd February 2007 at 00:00
David McLaren is a senior lecturer in the department of educational and professional studies at Strathclyde University, and was a member of the guidance review group Comment copy = Exactly two years ago to the month, the national review of guidance, Happy, Safe and Achieving their Potential, was finally launched after a three-year hiatus in the aftermath of McCrone. Where are we now with guidancepupil supportpastoral care personal support, or whatever it's called in a school near you?

It has taken two years for the Scottish Executive to establish an implementation group, which has yet to report but which is gathering shiny examples of good practice to share with us. Good enough, except that its remit is tightly restricted. It is not mandated to monitor or evaluate the progress of the guidance review and the standards contained within it. Even if it were, the implementation group could hardly be described as independent, funded as it is by the executive. HMIE might do the evaluation but, since they largely defined "personal support" in their 2004 report, they might not be best placed either.

There is a lot which needs to be looked at in what might at best appear to be a very varied and variable provision across the country. Standards are fine as an idea but there is a great deal of uncertainty about how all of this is going to pan out. What is meant by "first-level" support, for example, and how do you make it meaningful, coherent and progressive in a time of tight timetables and 33-period weeks?

Similarly, the review is muddled about who is to be involved and about levels of responsibility. It talks of "all staff", "specialist staff", "key staff", "senior PS staff" and principal teachers - all in its determination to avoid being prescriptive and to avoid anything controversial about full-time staff in pupil support. Some headteachers will like this approach because it gives them more power to manage their schools in their own ways, but one's devolved power is another parent's postcode lottery.

While this has been going on, excellence has taken over the world. Many would argue that the four capacities in A Curriculum for Excellence can only be achieved with the help of a strong, vibrant pupil support system with defined staff responsibilities.

According to the limited blurb from Learning and Teaching Scotland, pupil support is "fundamental" to the success of the programme. If it is so fundamental, it is strange that no one knows what to do with it except possibly to bury it under "health and well-being". Who dreamed that up?

It gets worse. What little information there is on pupil support on the LTS site is tucked away under "the health-promoting school". When I ask about this, people tell me it's only temporary - pending decisions and so on.

Saints preserve us.

Overall, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that there are some major holes in the policy and planning of pupil support in the ACfE programme. That is one way of putting it - shambles might be another. Or a work in progress, perhaps. If so, I can see little evidence of either work or progress.

Cue reassuring noises from SEED and all the individuals and groups funded to promote its excellent policiesI

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