Schools that are deprived but ready for work

2nd September 2011 at 01:00
Research finds they prepare pupils well for next stage of life

Some of the secondary schools serving areas of high deprivation in Glasgow are punching above their weight in terms of preparing pupils for employment, training and further education, according to independent research.

A team from Glasgow University has revealed that some schools achieved a success rate of well over 90 per cent of "positive school leaver destinations" over a three-year period - above the average for the city.

Although Glasgow scores below the national average for exam attainment, it is very close to the national average for positive destinations, say the researchers, Stephen McKinney, Stuart Hall and Kevin Lowden.

Put in context, that suggests that the five schools studied are also doing better in those terms than many others across Scotland, which suffer considerably less economic deprivation.

Dr McKinney identified four key factors in the five schools that "made the difference":

- school leadership (most often the headteacher) and a school vision that went beyond exam attainment;

- key designated staff with responsibility for positive destinations, such as the principal teacher of pastoral care, and strong links with external staff, including activity agreement coaches, employability officers, local regeneration groups and Skills Development Scotland;

- careers advisers who made a qualitative difference, particularly to pupils' confidence, motivation and resilience, but their presence had to be sustained; and

- targeted interventions, such as bespoke winter leavers' programmes.

The study, funded by the Adam Smith Research Fund, was carried out on the basis that the five schools, located across the city, were not identified.

A "fragile picture" emerged, said Dr McKinney, of schools having to overcome pupils' family crises and breakdowns and the knock-on effects of budget cuts.

Some schools could no longer afford the transport costs of taking pupils to careers fairs, although one invited employers and university representatives to come to its premises.

"Few schools could identify any major employers that have a sustained relationship with them. Most schools focused on contacts with small employers and securing places when possible," said Dr McKinney.

Glasgow City Council's arm's length body, City Building, was a useful source of employment, he said, but schools were concerned about the part- time nature and poor career prospects offered by retail, supermarkets and catering.

Pupils and schools felt there were not enough apprenticeships available, while places at colleges and universities had also become scarcer.

Some schools identified the raising of university tariffs as "highly challenging" for their pupils, who tended to aim for a certain set of grades for specific degree programmes, only to find the entry level had been changed once or even twice in a year.

Cuts in staffing allocated to schools were perceived to be "very serious", reported the researchers.

Following the demise of the Government's Determined to Succeed programme earlier this year, which funded "employability officers", Glasgow has used its own funding to continue this kind of work.

However, employability officers are now shared between schools whereas in the past each secondary had its own one.

External funding will support the work of Glasgow's seven activity agreement coaches, who tend to work with the most "at risk" pupils, until March 2012, but schools are worried about funding thereafter.

pound;500k on extra staff

Glasgow City Council is spending pound;500,000 on a pilot scheme to allocate an extra teacher to 26 of the city's 30 secondary schools, with the sole remit of raising attainment.

Headteachers will be given discretion in how to use the additional teacher, and the funding will last until March 2012, when senior pupils start their study leave. If successful, the council will look to extend the project.

Attainment levels are improving at Standard grade General level in S4, but the council wants to improve the proportion of pupils achieving five or more awards at Standard grade Credit, as well as Higher passes in S5.

Original headline: Revealed: schools that are deprived but ready for work

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