One of Scotland's smallest education authorities is making a virtue of its size by running a raising attainment programme in which secondary heads inspect each other's exam results and strategies for improvement.
West Dunbartonshire Council's Leadership for Learning programme, which seeks to investigate "the story behind the STACS (SQA exam results)" in each of its five secondary schools, is being credited with an upward trend in achievement and attainment in an authority of high deprivation.
Terry Lanagan, the council's director of educational services, is cautiously optimistic about the "significant improvements" the authority has seen in a number of measures over the past two years.
In the proportion of 3-plus Highers by the end of S6, the authority's performance has gone up from 25 per cent in 2008 to 34 per cent in 2012 (the national average in 2012 was 36 per cent); in 5-plus Highers by the end of S6, it rose from 15 per cent to 21 per cent over the same period (the national average was 25 per cent).
"Comparing us to the national average, it still looks as if we are not doing that well, but if you look at school-leaver destinations, we have got 92.6 per cent going into positive destinations - well above the national average, and above the average for the first time for leavers going into further and higher education," Mr Lanagan said.
For more than two years, West Dunbartonshire has employed a number of methods to raise attainment, including the appointment of a raising attainment teacher in each secondary - St Peter the Apostle, Vale of Leven Academy, Clydebank High, Our Lady and St Patrick's, and Dumbarton Academy. Every three months, the director has to make a progress report to the education committee.
One of its most effective approaches, Mr Lanagan believes, has been the implementation of a process for analysing each school's SQA exam results.
Historically, the director, head of service and a quality improvement officer would visit each school and interrogate its exam results with the senior management team.
"It concentrated the mind but it was a bit of an arid exercise. So we developed a model quite far removed from that - virtually an all-day event," said Mr Lanagan.
The day now includes sessions with other staff as well as senior managers, including class observations, and meetings with pupils and parents. This academic year, for the first time, each headteacher joined the directorate team on a visit to another school.
In the past, pupils were handpicked to talk to the team, but this year a group was chosen at random. S56 pupils, for instance, suggested that the focus of supported study sessions be made clearer to them in advance, so that they could pick and choose according to their specific needs.
Jacqui Lynam, who became head of Dumbarton Academy last year after being an acting head in Renfrewshire, described the meeting with the visiting team as "very supportive".
She also appreciated the opportunity to visit another school: "It was a way for heads to share the good practice that goes on in every school. As a new head I got some good ideas."
Her suggestion for further improvement is to make the post of raising attainment teacher a substantive one in all the schools; it is currently an acting role in most.
Our Lady and St Patrick's High, Dumbarton
- All S4 measures equal to or above national average, all above comparator schools;
- 5+ credit passes - 53 per cent, 10 per cent better than previous post- appeal results, placing school in the top 20 per cent nationally.
- Tracking of pupil progress across departments followed up by pastoral care and senior management team with focus on early intervention;
- Use of Bloom's taxonomy to develop higher-order thinking skills;
- Staff development on fixed and growth mindsets (pioneered by Stanford University professor Carol Dweck).
- Supported studyEaster study programme should start earlier;
- Some supported study classes are too big;
- Focus of supported study could be more clearly identified