Much to do and the school clock is ticking

24th September 2004 at 01:00
At this stage in the autumn term I am already very critical of my performance as a leader. I am working hard to manage all of the essential parts of the job to ensure a smooth start to the session. I should be in classes and monitoring, but I am not; that has not even been set up yet, but, honestly, I will get to it soon.

This term staff in primary schools are so enthusiastic about their new thinking time, free of pupils, for one and a half hours a week.

And at Queensferry Primary, far from being deprived by having more than one teacher per class, our pupils are enjoying art and PE from the teachers who are providing the McCrone cover and they are a very welcome addition.

I thought that our development plan was ready last June but already I am making changes. The equality policy needs additions, necessary by law, and the enterprise entitlements for pupils require adaptations to the environmental studies programme. The fact that we now have much more time together as a school team makes it so much easier to share information and work on curriculum developments such as these.

Being the autumn term, it is almost time to unveil the secrets of the curriculum review. Rumours abound about more play and less work at the early stages. Will we have primary teachers working in secondary schools? And personal learning plans for all pupils? What is meant by flexibility for schools to develop in different ways (while always retaining the "not for sale" items that Professor Pamela Munn would talk about, such as working towards excellence)? Perhaps changes to expectations for national tests and assessment generally are planned.

Many schools are already working hard to turn ideas about formative assessment into classroom practices. We have learning intentions displayed at the start, middle and end of lessons, so that pupils are very clear about what their teachers are trying to teach and to help them to learn.

One book which is proving to be very practical and helpful to our staff is Shirley Clarke's Unlocking Formative Assessment (Hodder and Stoughton).

I expect that most of the review changes will be for secondary schools but I may be wrong. The Education Minister, Peter Peacock, and HM senior chief inspector of schools, Graham Donaldson, gave strong hints at the educational leadership conference this month that the How Good is Our School? four-point scale is likely to extend to a five-or six-point scale to build in more capacity for recording and reporting school improvement.

Some schools are excellent but can only score fours or "very good" in the current system. A change would enable excellence to be recognised.

I have noticed a turn-around from promoting the importance of the leadership of effective headteachers to promoting the benefits of collegiate leadership in our schools. There is so much talent and experience to draw on from within and beyond schools; that can only now be made use of, because we have some free time to think beyond the main task of class teaching. It is exciting to watch the enthusiasm and motivation which exists now; more talents can come to the fore and schools can have a more collegiate leadership pattern.

Today is harvest thanksgiving. Children from the nursery join us for this celebration. Happy and confident children will sing songs as their thanks for a good harvest. Older pupils will have researched the difficulties that communities are facing in Sudan or the southern states of America in the hurricane season.

I remember a little girl once asking me: "Do trees bend down and pick up their leaves again when springtime comes?" We have much to teach and we all know that our school year is already well underway.

Sheilah Jackson is headteacher of Queensferry Primary in EdinburghIf you have any comments, e-mail


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