Nothing wins over parents like success

21st November 2003 at 00:00
League tables soon became a yawn. Annually trotted out, they spawned dreary, repetitive columns in the press and released suppressed journalism skills in telling letters to the editors. And to what end?

It has been self-evident for years that school improvement at national level comes about through processes from within the schools, not from public appreciation of apparent excellence or humiliation for perceived failure. Indeed, before the decision was taken to publish, in rank order, the scandal that was these tables, did anyone ever consider the impact on pupils?

It is refreshing to hear that the Education Minister has decided against the continuation of the nonsense. Equally refreshing was the laughably predictable noise his decision generated.

Within the criticism his broad shoulders have had to bear is the claim that parents will be denied information they have a right to access. The ministerial response - that much wider areas of critical information, including school ethos and local perspectives should be included - was well judged and I certainly welcome this new slant.

Parents should be welcome to access all that is quantifiable about a school, such as national exam results, attendance data, exclusion figures, free meals entitlement, vandalism costs and school leaver destinations. The figures exist: why should anyone hide them?

Loaded with the data, will parents be in a stronger position to support their child in school? Presumably, this is at the core of the Minister's initiative. It is not a devious plot to distance parents from their child's learning but an enlightened approach where parents are better informed and consequently more involved in the learning process.

This is a path worth taking because it has real value, yet it will present difficulties and challenges as the partners - schools and parents - attempt to create a better learning experience for children.

Discussing how to involve parents more directly in enhancing pupil success would take more space than this column allows - I would love to hear of successful work in this area - so I will focus on one aspect.

Being successful not only raises a person's spirits but also creates self-belief. Being associated with success is the next best thing.

Celebrating success with a school is a hugely motivating experience.

How schools develop such celebration is a matter for each establishment but the power of involving parents, in making them feel their own worth, in helping them to appreciate their own child's talents, cannot be underestimated.

One clear route for celebrating the successes of pupils with their parents is by holding a prize-giving ceremony. It is an easy concept: bright and gifted pupils receive the spoils of their talent. It can be a narrow concept, also, if talent is measured in one particular form and the majority of pupils see their contributions go unrecognised. And a glorious opportunity for involving parents may go begging.

At St Paul's High in Glasgow. we prefer a broader celebration of our pupils' successes. The awards ceremony is the highlight of the school year.

It does recognise academic success. However, staff appreciate that a narrow interpretation of such success fails to accept the value and dignity of many pupils who, on a daily basis, are a credit to themselves, their parents and the school. To restrict success to a small, gifted group also belittles the outstanding work done by teachers in bringing out the best in pupils of all abilities and from all backgrounds. Awards night, therefore, is also a celebration of the diversity that exists in a secondary school, taking in excellence in music or enterprise, sports achievements and contributions to the school community.

It guarantees a packed assembly hall and a sharing between pupils and staff. It also raises parents on to a pedestal. Their child's night of glory is a night of family success and their pride is almost tangible.

How better to involve parents in supporting children in school than by maximising on pupils' success and achievements. Coming through the school doors for all the right reasons creates the strongest foundations for other areas to be developed.

The big picture in education changes regularly: inclusion, McCrone, flexibility, and mixed ability teaching are recent focal points. For parents, however, the big picture surely remains constant: it is school as a quality experience for the child. That is an aspiration for all of us.

Rod O'Donnell is headteacher of St Paul's High, GlasgowIf you have any comments, e-mail

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