Soaking up some CPD on holiday

7th May 2004 at 01:00
I know I am not alone in reflecting on how some of the time I spend away from school impacts on how I continue to approach my daily tasks.

During the Easter break I travelled within Scotland and across to Dublin. In Oban I came across a great friend I'd not seen for too long.

We had been principal teachers together in the 1970s but he accepted a "package" two years ago and had a strong recommendation for life in civvy street. There was perhaps not too much professional development input from the three days we spent together.

Crossing the sea to Dublin coincided with the national conference for Irish teachers. It was interesting to note the prominence given to it in the media: education is at the top of the national agenda. The two points that dominated were class sizes and their impact on the quality of learning and pupil discipline.

The debate on the latter had a familiar ring. There was an acceptance that all pupils have a value and personal dignity that deserves to be nurtured and an understanding that embracing this ideal creates tension for many teachers when poor pupil discipline damages the rights of other young people. There was no shedding of light from Dublin, but consolation that we face similar difficulties and wrestle with identical problems.

The break also gave me time to read and, abandoning pulp, I chose Glaswegian Marie Stubbs's account of how she was invited to come out of retirement and return to school in 2000. The invitation was fairly unique.

She was to head St George's in Maida Vale, west London. When the name is related to Philip Lawrence, the headteacher who was fatally stabbed on its doorstep in 1995, you will appreciate the singular challenge.

Following the tragedy it apparently deteriorated and an Ofsted inspection placed it under special measures, threatening closure if standards did not improve. It remains open and has succeeded against pretty insurmountable odds.

Lady Stubbs inherited what can only be described as the archetypal failing school: demoralised staff, pupils and parents; rife absenteeism, truancy and poor timekeeping; lawlessness in the classrooms and corridors; school governors resistant to change; and the inspectorate breathing relentlessly down everyone's neck.

It would be churlish to ruin the story for you but already her ideas, vision and courage have created a real stir for me and Gerry, my depute (who has his own copy) and we plan to put a couple of new ideas to our pupils and staff before summer arrives. I recommend this book, Ahead of the Class (John Murray); inspirational leadership at work can improve all of us.

My professional development over Easter continued by picking up The TES Scotland. What grabbed my attention was Neil Munro's visit to Australia, Singapore and New Zealand, accompanying Peter Peacock on a fact-finding visit. The Education Minister was seeking to identify problems and successful working strategies.

My Irish visit highlighted national similarities for two countries; Mr Munro's coverage demonstrated similar findings on a wider international scale. Early education, issues surrounding assessment and the structure of the curriculum were to the fore in each country.

The New Zealand education minister spoke about equality and the importance of every single learner: I think we call it inclusion.

New Zealand has embarked on a new qualification system but three major criticisms are being levelled at the government: poor implementation, poor resourcing and an intolerable workload for teachers. Recall the introduction of Standard grades and then the Higher Still programme. I don't know whether to be consoled that Scotland does not suffer alone or to despair that, in the 21st century, educators seem unable to learn better together how best to serve our children.

The General Teaching Council's regular publications do not necessarily feature highly on my list of required reading. Over Easter I did take time to read its most recent issue. Inclusion was highlighted, as was a teacher's-eye view of classroom discipline, the tension between the two being only too apparent.

As far as CPD goes, the holiday was patchy: some I liked, some saddened me, some I will use, some I'll discard. As for personal reading, I have returned to pulp: I'm working on a series of murders in Los Angeles. And I'm not entirely sure which path will make me a better head.

Rod O'Donnell is headteacher of St Paul's High, GlasgowIf you have any comments, e-mail

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