The hard sell

27th March 2015 at 00:00

Options time strikes terror into the hearts of most departments. We are plagued by questions about columns, subject choices, the viability of classes and pathways for learners. Meanwhile, the threat of low numbers lurks like the Grim Reaper.

One colleague remarked to me that it was time to get out the croissants and caf au lait to entice pupils into French. Really? Is this what it has come to? Should we use food or the promise of a trip somewhere to encourage students to take our subjects? (Although some tapas and a trip to Seville would have me at "Hola!")

By this time, children's experience of general education should already have given them a love for their chosen subjects. Hopefully, the framework for selecting options will allow pupils to study as many of their favourites as possible. Very often, though, we hear students say that they couldn't go for the subject they wanted because of the way the column choices were arranged.

Another problem is that, with the best will in the world, retaining pupils after three years of work in a subject can be hard. For a long time, certain subjects would always take a big hit, seeing pupils depart but clinging on to the hope of getting senior learners back in S6. Yet these young people would make better progress if they did not have a two-year break.

We should be asking ourselves whether we are preparing our young people for the senior phase. Is our broad general education stimulating and fit for purpose (and all those other jargon words we hear so often)? Are we challenging them? And, of course, are we challenging ourselves? How many teachers jump out of bed full of the joys of spring because they have S3 coming in that morning?

I've talked about course content in many professional dialogue sessions, and how important it is that we enjoy what we are teaching. Often, I've been met with the reply: "Well, it's not about enjoyment, is it?" I beg to differ.

Don't get me wrong, I don't exactly relish teaching the subjunctive, but I have a better relationship with it now than I did once upon a time. (A bit off-topic, but do we feel the same about Curriculum for Excellence now that we have got over the initial "What's it all about?")

But back to the options forms, the stand-offs at dawn between different subjects. Do the gloves really need to come off between staff from different parts of the school? Do we really need to play a PR game on behalf of our subjects? This is a time when staff could instead be coming together to contribute to the discussion, to look at the best possible outcomes for les enfants.

And if anyone can find me a maths course with food in Spain, I'll be there.

Gillian Campbell-Thow is faculty head of modern languages and English as an additional language at All Saints Secondary School in Glasgow. She was Scotland's Teacher of the Year in 2014

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