Plans to cut class sizes come under fire from commission, which says quality of teachers is more important
GLASGOW'S EDUCATION commission has set its face against the SNP-led Scottish Executive's policy of cutting class sizes to 18 in P1-3, saying teacher competency is a more significant factor in attainment.
Ronnie O'Connor, the council's retiring education director who chaired the commission, said this week that the strongest research evidence suggested that the best ratio was one teacher to 15 pupils but that, if this was available only in the early stages, its effects were washed out within a further three years. "A good teacher will overcome the numbers game," he commented.
The commission's report also points out that there is some evidence from England of a disruptive effect when children move from smaller to larger classes.
In another recommendation, the commission controversially suggests moving the starting age in primary from five to six in the longer term.
"It was felt that an additional year in a pre-five setting would be beneficial for many pupils," the report states. However, this could only be achieved when universal, full-day early years education was available for all three- to six-year-olds.
Mr O'Connor added that Glasgow wanted to put a greater focus on literacy and numeracy than any other authority in Scotland had done to date. There are already some 20 teachers dedicated to literacy and numeracy work in Glasgow, and the report recommends the recruitment of a further 70 literacy and numeracy champions, so that each learning community would have a three-strong team attached to it.
The aim, said Mr O'Connor, was to try and eliminate cases of children in P7 and S1 who were only at P3 level in literacy and numeracy. Summer schools are also proposed, along with holiday play schemes, which will include more "fun" work with reading and counting for younger children.
The commission also suggests that, in order to ease the primary to secondary transition, the common course in English and maths be moved from S1S2 to P7S1. The secondary principal teachers of English and maths would be responsible for developing a "seamless" curriculum and assessment system and developing much stronger links with primary.
Martin Hardie, head of St Paul's (Whiteinch) Primary, who was a member of the commission, said such a move was vital. In his learning community, led by St Thomas Aquinas Secondary, this had already been piloted.
The other priority identified this week was leadership, not just in the authority and among senior management in schools, but in the classroom as well. The report recommends a formal appraisal scheme for headteachers, in line with that found in business, but also mentoring and coaching and other support mechanisms.
Mr O'Connor said he would like to see the creation of a real leadership academy to improve succession planning - not the virtual leadership academy format that was adopted by the previous executive and is favoured by the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland.
In contrast to the North Lanarkshire model of specialist comprehensives, which he sees as having been largely vocational in focus, Glasgow wants to follow its existing specialist school model of Bellahouston (sports) and Knightswood (dance), and move into new subject areas, particularly science and technology and the creative industries.
The report also focuses on finding ways to create a "record of achievement"
- as opposed to the more traditional exam-based attainment - that will reflect the softer skills that employers are looking for.
As part of that thinking, it also plans to develop an "employer-pupil support pledge". This will require companies to guarantee employment or training to young people aged 16-plus who meet the criteria agreed between the employer and young person in attainment, attendance and behaviour.
A minimum of five behaviour and learning support centres are also proposed - one within each of the new community health and care partnerships - which will be multi-disciplinary and short-term (six to eight weeks).
They will focus on assessment and behaviour intervention which would allow the pupils to continue their education in a mainstream school. The centres are likely to target 10-14-year-olds, since they are believed to be less effective with older age groups.
Mr O'Connor said this was a model he had seen work very effectively in a similar urban setting in the United States. The benefit was that it would maintain the pupil's educational standards, whereas too often when a child was removed from school, he or she lost ground educationally.
OTHER PROPOSALS THAT COULD HELP BOOST PERFORMANCE
Invest in more teachers of English as a second language and bilingual staff
Restrict class sizes to 25 where there are children with significant additional support needs
Increase the number of educational psychologists
Create more specialist units in mainstream schools for pupils with long-term additional support needs
Develop a policy for more able pupils, which challenges and extends their learning
Open all pre-five establishments from 8am to 6pm
Develop an electronic system to support the sharing of data between schools and other agencies to provide a "one file child"
Give headteachers more flexibility and choice over their staffing budgets
Set up a teacher loan fund for those who want to embark on the chartered teacher programme. The loan would be repaid once they had received their enhanced salary
Extend the training for pupil support assistants
Introduce a two-year compulsory CPD programme for newly qualified teachers following their probationary year
All services for children to be led by five area education managers