AN INTERNATIONAL project in which Scottish schools are taking the lead is defying the "carping critics" of the country's education, one of its leading exponents says.
Three very different schools travelled to a converted monastery in Salem, Switzerland, this week to join representatives from seven other countries to give a progress report on developing innovative approaches to teaching and evaluating the results.
The three are Prestonpans primary in East Lothian, St Aidan's High in North Lanarkshire and Clippens Special School in Renfrewshire. The project is backed by the German-based Bertelsmann Foundation, funded by the world's third largest media empire.
John MacBeath, head of Strathclyde University's Quality in Education Centre (QIE), is overall co-ordinator for the eight countries. He said: "This is a real tribute to Scotland and to Scottish schools. The prestigious Bertelsmann Foundation has looked to Scotland for exemplary practice in teaching and learning and in school self-evaluation.
"It has been a wonderful experience for the schools involved to visit schools in other countries, not only to share what they have achieved but to extend their own thinking and practice. The project is helping to raise the profile of our schools and defy the carping critics who are all too ready to talk down Scottish education."
The Swiss conference follows two earlier ones in Edinburgh and Toronto. It will hear of the "Prestonpans golden book awards" in which the names of pupils nominated by teachers and teachers nominated by pupils are entered into a golden book once a month; the pupils at St Aidan's who evaluate their teaching; and the autistic children at Clippens who are taught by pupils from two neighbouring secondaries.
Staff from the schools were attending a five-day summer academy this week prior to the conference. This is intended to extend their contact with innovative approaches to teaching, particularly "co-operative group learning" aimed at giving pupils much greater responsibility for their own learning.
Tom Dobie of the Strathclyde quality centre has been acting as "critical friend" to the schools in the project. "If I was asked to pinpoint the most important feature of these schools, I would say it is leadership, leadership, leadership. Raising achievement and pupil support are also important, of course, but these are things which all the schools are trying to achieve through their leadership."
Rosemary McDonald, head of St Aidan's High, said: "Leadership is a shared thing in a school, in which the staff are actively involved. It's not about a single vision but a shared sense of what a school is about. There is no magic wand and there is a lot of good practice in many, many schools across the country."
Ms McDonald pointed out, however, that the Bertelsmann project simply allowed each school to develop its existing approaches. "Pupil evaluation of their school experience is not alien to the culture of this school. It's very important to have set the groundwork in the first place and not just grab today's bright idea in the hope it will work."