'Inspirational' head attacks priorities

27th January 2006 at 00:00
The headteacher described in his school's HMIE report as "inspirational" - and who was lauded by the First Minister - has delivered a scathing indictment of what is expected of schools.

Frank Lennon, the head of St Modan's High in Stirling, one of the Scottish Executive's 20 schools of ambition, said this week that attainment should not be the top priority for schools. It was a by-product of the real purpose of schools, which was to develop positive values, attitudes and relationships.

St Modan's High describes its core curriculum as consisting of personal growth, character and enrichment.

Mr Lennon said attainment was not a particular problem in Scotland, although the gap between the top and bottom groups of pupils was of concern. But, by and large, Scottish schools did a remarkably good job and the competence of teachers had rarely been questioned in HMIE reports.

The bottom 20 per cent of school performers, who are now exercising ministers, would always be there, whatever schools did, Mr Lennon suggested.

He told a conference on school achievement this week: "If we focus instead on values, attitudes and relationships, that will have consequences for the way the school is run, how it is structured and for expectations of behaviour. Inclusion fits in well with such an approach."

Mr Lennon said the difficulty was that, if schools try to move away from the attainment agenda, they are accused of dumping it. "That's not what I'm arguing. But if you've got someone who's got straight As in five Highers and is a liar and a cheat and has no integrity and lacks a sense of community, is that really the society we should be trying to create?"

He noted that "the people who brought down Enron and Barings' Bank were not short of ability: what they lacked was a values perspective".

Mr Lennon said the big problem facing schools was "the lack of moral confidence on the part of school leadership and, something which is rarely talked about, the professional identity of teachers".

He continued: "If the only way teachers define their professionalism is by the subject they teach, then we have a problem."

Mr Lennon recalled comments by Sir Steve Redgrave, the Olympic gold-winning rower, after he won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award and went on to thank his teacher. "But that teacher was his English teacher, who happened to have a passion for rowing," he said.

The senior management at St Modan's underline this broader view of teaching by refusing to attend departmental meetings, which Mr Lennon described as "junk." Instead, they would meet groups of subject teachers for specific purposes. Hence, senior management have managed to free up 18 hours a week for 42 weeks.

Mr Lennon said the aim should be to get teachers "who have a passion for their subject but do not think departmentally".

St Modan's hopes to achieve this with its new faculty structure and by reorganising the school day. There are four faculties with four budgets - pastoral, one consisting of the arts, culture and health, another for language and society, and a fourth covering maths, science and technology.

The school has also restructured its day by adding a seventh period for three days a week from 2.50pm to 4.10pm. This is mandatory for all S1-S4 pupils who have to opt in for a whole year to choose from a selection of arts, sports and enterprise activities. The intention is to produce more pupils with all-round interests and also to encourage teachers to go beyond their subject boundaries.

Teachers are not compelled to take part but, Mr Lennon says, only six of the 69 teaching staff have never taken part in any extra-curricular activities. Parents also have been supportive.

Mr Lennon said this was an important vehicle for the "formation" of young people, teaching them virtues such as teamwork, reliability and sensitivity, which they might get from playing in a band or a football team.

He added: "If we don't do that, MSN will always win and the kids will be sitting on their backsides in front of a computer."

The school believes it will be able to show returns from its approach within four years.

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