It all starts with a little respect ..

15th March 2013 at 00:00

I stand at the gate every morning and I welcome everybody by name. That's where I start that relationship, that's where we get that mutual respect and trust."

These are the words of Tracey Berry, a family support teacher at Forthview Primary in Edinburgh, who was appointed MBE for services to education in the New Year Honours. When you read what she has to say about respect and forming partnerships with parents of two- and three-year-olds, you can see why (page 16).

Ms Berry is not alone in working with families in the earliest stages of education, but she encapsulates much of the best thinking in today's schools and national policy. She wants to reach out to the child while it is still in the most formative stages and work with the parent or carer to nurture it and set it on the right path.

What Ms Berry is doing at the early years stage, Angie Wilcock, author of The Transition Tightrope, wants secondary teachers to do for the families of new first-year pupils (page 26). She doesn't go so far as suggesting home visits, but she recommends regular "mini-meets" - five- or 10-minute get-togethers with groups of parents, like a "parent-teacher buddy system", where they can discuss questions that arise and establish "positive relationships" early.

Better Relationships, Better Learning, Better Behaviour is the title of Scottish government guidelines published this week (page 5), following the Behaviour in Scottish Schools 2012 research, which showed the positive impact in schools where there is "an ethos of mutual respect and trust". There's that phrase again - and listed in the priority actions are the important role of support staff and vital role of families: "Parents and carers should be engaged as partners in ensuring the consistency of approach to promoting positive relationships and behaviour between home and the learning environment."

Home-school partnerships are increasingly being cultivated to protect the child at the heart of the system, whether through Curriculum for Excellence or Getting it Right for Every Child policies. And increasingly, it appears, they are helping to give pupils self-respect and self-confidence.

Where such qualities are lacking, young people can be vulnerable. Girls with little self-worth and low aspirations are more prone to early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy, according to members of the parliament's health committee (News Focus, pages 12-15). So anything that boosts their social and emotional well-being is crucial.

The best schools and teachers have always done that - what's different now is the national focus. Whether it's schools such as Springburn Academy in Glasgow working with professionals in the community (page 5) or Dunblane High collaborating with the British Exploring Society (page 18) to extend young people's horizons, all of them - like Tracey Berry - "want to change children's lives".

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