Stockport is working hard to build every child's confidence. Laurence Pollock reports
Historically, education has been a recognised road to self-assurance - for some. Others have found the competitive ethos at the top of the class too harsh and have lost out. And lack of confidence may go beyond a poor educational outcome. A child may be left open to abuse and unacceptable treatment. The inability to judge what is good and right "for me" - in the maths class or with an unfamiliar adult - means the child has no benchmark for normality.
So here is an obvious link between personal well-being and the educational progress. Assessment for learning (AfL) is seen as integral to the Primary and Secondary National Strategies in England. It involves the gathering of evidence of pupil achievement through peer interaction and quality feedback to children from teachers.
Every Child Matters (ECM) was established following eight-year-old Victoria Climbie's tragic death and the subsequent Laming public enquiry. ECM key outcomes - stay safe, be healthy, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and achieve economic well-being - are the pillars of today's children's services.
Now this potential synergy between AfL and ECM has been identified by education planners at Stockport's Children and Young People's Directorate (CYPD). They aim to bring together the outcomes of the two philosophies and have used ECM as a template for school improvement. Individual schools, as a result, have started adopting this format for themselves. Guided by advisers such as Phil Beswick, Stockport has been analysing how the skills developed in AfL can feed in to ECM.
Richard Bates, CYPD assistant director, says that by juxtaposing the improvement activities planned against the ECMagenda, schools can see how progress can be achieved.
Stockport's recent joint area review conducted by Ofsted with nine other inspectorates such as police and social care, also endorsed the framework that the authority is building. It stated that the vast majority of schools were "good or very good" and the council and its partners had made a strong commitment to the ECM agenda.
The borough is keen to demonstrate examples of this progress in its primary strategy and the use of AfL in key stages 1 and 2. Under "stay safe" it notes "children develop the ability to make their own choices", and under "being healthy", "children develop the ability make positive choices about relationships". "Enjoying and achieving" outcomes include schools accurately assessing children's attainment and children applying self and peer assessment strategies.
Mr Beswick, senior primary adviser at Stockport, has played an important role and widened the vision of holistic children's services. He wants to recapture the concept of pedagogy, commonplace in the rest of Europe, as a way of linking attainment with personal well-being. A member of the Primary Strategy national working party on AfL, he started to perceive how its outcomes - clarification, engaging success, dialogue in lessons, time for review and reflection - echoed, in the context of attainment, the larger goals of ECM.
"But you can't support a culture where children can talk about their work but have not had enough breakfast," he says. Mr Beswick suggests that breakfast clubs are an easy - but good - starting point.
He then cites St Elisabeth's primary, Reddish, where headteacher Shirley Tootell greets breakfast clubbers and their parents as they arrive. It is a way of building confidence and promoting dialogue if there are problems either in the home or in the classroom.
St Elisabeth's, surrounded by former mills, is set in a poorer area of Stockport. It is full of good practice, from the soft toys and comfy seats in the library, to the nursery and the numeracy classes for parents.
The school improvement plan priorities reflect the lead given by the LEA and its AfL goals are linked to the ECM priorities. In particular, use of AfL highlights children understanding success criteria (being healthy), evaluating successful elements of their learning (enjoy and achieve) and knowing how to improve based on verbal and written feedback (achieve economic well-being).
But it is the nuts and bolts of AfL, children evaluating each other's work, looking for evidence, asking what constitutes success, which the Stockport visionaries think is at the base of the new platform they are building.
Mellor primary, in a less disadvantaged area of the borough, is also applying AfL and making connections with the ECM outcomes. Susan Pollard, headteacher at Mellor, sees the link: "If children have the skills to analyse, they can apply this to a range of situations. They are learning to identify what they need - for instance, the school council identifying classroom equipment that is safe and appropriate."
During a Year 6 literacy lesson a number of children told The TES what the peer assessment process helped them to do (names have been changed): "I feel like I'm the teacher. We feel responsibility", says Jane. Sandra and Michael were marking each other's work. Mark thought it was good for problem solving. Sandra says: "If he marks it wrong, we discuss it." Sam says: "I like marking other people's work because I know I can help."
Among all the educational good practice it is worth remembering that ECM was devised because a frightened Victoria Climbie had no powers of expression to define abuse or ask for help. If Stockport's ambition is confirmed and disseminated, education could become the pathway to confidence for every child - not just those who come top of the class.