Inspired ways to deal in solutions, not problems

1st August 2008 at 01:00
Three schools are determined to succeed when it comes to enterprise. We profile the most enthusiastic primary, secondary and special school winners of this year's Scottish Education Awards

"Hi-de-hi!" chirps Linda Murphy each time she answers the phone. It is not inappropriate that the headteacher of Milngavie Primary invokes the 1980s' sitcom of that name, for she shares the relentless positivity demanded of staff in the fictional seaside holiday camp.

"We've got a very can-do attitude, a very positive ethos," says Ms Murphy, a bustling character who zips around the East Dunbartonshire school dispensing nuggets of encouragement to everyone she passes, again revealing a predilection for 1980s' television with her favoured superlative of "fan-dabi-dozi".

"There are positive posters everywhere," she says, pointing out messages such as `Success comes in cans' and `We deal in solutions, not in problems'. "They're not just there for the children - they're for the whole school, to keep staff up and motivated. There's a real buzz about the place."

P7 pupil Beth McCreadie concurs when she pithily explains her sadness at leaving: "Everyone's always cheerful and happy."

The constant thrum of positive energy is worth little if there is nowhere to direct it - but this is where Milngavie Primary comes into its own. It has won this year's Determined to Succeed Most Enterprising Primary School award, thanks to a bewildering range of activities across all age groups.

Judges were impressed that P1-P3 pupils were as enterprising as their elders. With help from enterprise co-ordinator and principal teacher Tracy Stilwell - one of three nominees for Scotland's teacher of the year award - they formed a committee to sort out things that bothered them: the state of the toilets and playground, and the mountains of lost property, clothes and lunchboxes cluttering corridors.

The toilets were transformed with Buzz Lightyear and Winnie the Pooh posters, and the children stuck jokes above the sinks ("Why did the skeleton cross the road? To go to the body shop.") This "positive focus" appears to have cut mischief-making in the toilets, Ms Murphy says.

The way was cleared in corridors, thanks to specially-made lost property pegs, and pupils donned fluorescent bibs to help the janitor tidy up the playground.

Another enterprising group set up a fair-trade tuck shop, selling treats such as Fairtrade rice cakes spread with jam.

"I find the children very confident here," says Mrs Stilwell. "It's an attitude of, `I'll give it a go'."

That disposition is equally evident in older pupils, who wrote and staged a school show with minimal guidance from teachers, and organised a careers day, during which they grilled local business people.

It extends, too, into classrooms, where the school's 330 pupils take part in interactive maths sessions, moving around different stations covering problem-solving, practical maths and thinking skills, using information technology, a programmable Roamer robot and an interactive whiteboard. The teachers give guidance while pupils take control, which encourages the more able to act as mentors to those who find numbers less straightforward.

"When they are describing something to a peer, it cements things in their own mind," Ms Murphy says.

So, while pedagogical ideas lie behind Milngavie Primary's success, and it has clearly embraced the pupil-centred ethos of A Curriculum for Excellence, the school's upbeat atmosphere is most memorable.

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