I'll get by with a little help . . .;The Sweeney;School Management

30th April 1999 at 01:00
Whenever I hear the phrase "supported study", I smell freshly-baked coffee buns. This stems from my experience in a primary school in the Fifties when, along with other teachers, I stayed behind on Wednesday afternoons to be helped with the mathematical problems and grammatical conundrums that defeated our ingenuity in normal hours. Between the end of the normal school day and the start of "homework classes", as we called them, we took ourselves off to the local baker's, which belched irresistible emissions of assorted home baking.

Like many things in education, supported study is presented to us today as though it had just been invented. "Positive behaviour" and "pupil-centred learning" are other fundamental characteristics of effective education which now masquerade as newly-patented discoveries. Supported study has been around for a long time and is undoubtedly a very good thing.

The staffroom in Holy Rood is the most underused location in the school. The days of a cup of coffee between classes and a quick glance at the newspaper crossword are memories from a distant past. Non-contact time, as it is euphemistically called, is frequently eroded to enable senior pupils to have additional help with Sixth-Year Studies, Higher investigations and additional teaching. Some teachers also devote their lunchtime to this purpose, and pupils appear to appreciate and respond to this dedication.

When the City of Edinburgh Council offered schools funding to pay for supported study in the lead-up to national examinations, we faced a dilemma. Would some teachers be paid for taking after-school classes, while others would continue to put in extra hours, as they had always done, without expectation of reward? What about PE and music departments, which provide rehearsals and sports clubs almost every lunchtime, after school and on Saturday mornings?

Before committing ourselves to payment of staff, we did a survey to find out how much additional tuition was already taking place. Almost every department had some commitment to teaching or support beyond statutory hours. Laurie McAlindin, a maths and guidance teacher, had provided a weekly lunchtime class for his Standard grade set since the start of the session, and they were all expected to be there. Some staff provided "call-in" facilities at lunchtime, while others ran weekly tutorials after school.

When staff were asked how they thought the new-found resources should be used, few said teachers should be paid for this additional work. Some wanted resources for revision, others suggested rewards for young people attending, such as snacks or cinema vouchers.

In anticipation of more substantial funding in the new financial year, we finally took pound;4,000 (pound;1,000 from this year's budget and pound;3,000 from next year's) and offered each department a fixed number of hours, which would be paid as overtime. Any additional hours would be voluntary and unpaid. Some of the money went towards increasing access to information technology or purchasing materials.

Staff were asked to indicate how and when these classes would take place, and again they produced an interesting variety of opportunities for pupils. The music department offered a two-day course in the Easter holidays on "inventing". I'm not sure exactly what this involves, but the title sounds as if it might also be a useful course for headteachers. Science teachers also opted to provide revision courses during the holidays. The Italian and French foreign language assistants were drafted in to provide extra tuition beyond their stipulated 12 hours a week. Staff said they would find ways of creating an informal setting which would recognise that pupils were giving up their own time to attend.

Funding of supported study is a laudable initiative. It crystallises the argument that, if we want improvements, we will have to pay for them. The Prince's Trust has started the ball rolling by funding pilot projects, which have delivered positive results. Funding which enables increased contact between teacher and pupil, which offers young people an environment in which they can progress and interact with teachers and their peers, will undoubtedly bring improvement. I am confident that the opportunities provided by the staff of Holy Rood, paid and voluntary, will directly improve this year's exam results. Now there's a bold prediction.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher of Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh

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