At the heart of the matter

24th January 1997 at 00:00
An Aberdeenshire academy has written its own whole-school approach to personal and social education. Joan Elrick reports.

An integrated multi-level approach to guidance is reaping dividends at Turriff Academy in Aberdeenshire, where assistant rector Wilfred Weir has written his own report on Moving Towards a Guidance-Oriented School.

The scheme is still in its infancy - Mr Weir admits it needs to be refined and enhanced - but he and his colleagues hope to provide at least some of the answers to the questions publicly being asked of schools. These follow high-profile news stories like the call for better drugs-related education after the death of Leah Betts, and - in the aftermath of the Rosemary West trial - the need for inter-agency co-operation to combat child abuse.

The 750-pupil Turriff Academy has four full-time guidance staff with little or no subject teaching on their timetables. Instead, they teach 80 minutes a week of personal and social education (PSE) to first to fourth-year pupils in their guidance role. Mr Weir says that PSE should be taught by trained staff - otherwise, some teachers could feel "dragooned" into tackling difficult subjects like sex, or areas in which they had little expertise, such as drugs.

The first line of approach is provided by register staff who, as house tutors, provide pupils with an initial point of contact first thing every day.

House tutors are also encouraged to deliver brief talks related to what is being taught in PSE at the time. This is optional and backed by a comprehensive support pack and regular meetings with guidance staff.

Turriff's second line of attack (or defence) is an extended guidance team involving social work, medical, child psychologyand health professionals. Mr Weir saysthe object is "to demystify the inter-agency involvement in guidance. Thisis fundamental to the academy's approach."

On a basic level, he explains, the team helps staff see what an educational psychologist or a social worker looks like, if not what they do. "Even in this we may be going too far," he says. "Maybe we should get the learning support and guidance staff within the school to present to the staff. You might laugh at that, but ignorance of what non-subject teachers do within a school can be a crippling factor in the job."

The third part of Turriff's strategy is cross-communication between departments. The crowning moment came during the school's drugs awareness week in September.

The English department organised videos and discussion; PE teachers covered the use of drugs in sport; home economics addressed the use of alcohol in a social context; the Secondary 4 (S4) drama group performed an improvisation on drugs which counted towards a short-course assessment; the art department produced posters which, Mr Weir says, were better than some professional work.

"This cross-curricular dimension was one of the most exciting developments of the week," he says.

"I don't think we have all the answers at Turriff. Support for pupils and guidance is central to the curriculum, but we hope the model we've used to express that centrality is more flexible and user-friendly for all staff, pupils and the community."

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