Start with high ideals

22nd August 2003 at 01:00
It makes sense to start the session with the big picture. All too soon we get pulled into the routines of a school year and the whirlwind, rollercoaster feelings which come with that. So, what is the state of the nation this year, in educational terms?

We are still guided by the five national priorities which all education authorities must address by setting out their local improvement objectives.

Achievement and Attainment is the first, with emphasis on raising standards in the core skills of literacy and numeracy. Along with many schools, Queensferry Primary has made great strides at the early stages. We must keep that going while also making better improvements at the upper stages.

Our capacity to do that lies in improving the attainment of boys. Some staff have attended courses but that is just a start. Do we have the courage to make real changes and try separate boys' and girls' classes? Time will tell.

Framework for Learning is one of the priorities which actually has more than one aspect:l to support and develop the skills of teachers.

The Scottish Executive and education authorities are putting funds into this and teachers will have more time by next August to take up the many opportunities to learn. At the end of June some 110 science teachers attended summer schools at Edinburgh University to develop and update their skills. No shortage of volunteers there.l to support and develop the self-discipline of pupils.

Generous funds are available to help with this but the staff who are working with pupils (some of whom have big problems which impact on their ability to learn) need training to be successful and this will take time.l to enhance class environments.

Most of my colleagues are seeing improvements to their schools and a good environment certainly helps learning and teaching.

The priority for Inclusion and Equality - to help every pupil benefit from education, with particular regard to pupils with disabilities and special educational needs - involves large amounts of money being directed to schools. This year, in Queensferry Primary's case, the money has been forthcoming and our local needs will be met.

This priority also seeks to include pupils who use Gaelic and other minority languages. Recently a national conference was run for teachers of Gaelic and a second is being planned, so the stage is set for more progress there, too.

The fourth-listed priority is Values and Citizenship. The hope is that schools will work with parents to teach pupils respect for oneself and others and the interdependence of members of a community. This may be difficult.

It has been increasingly hard, in recent years, to attract parents into schools due to other demands on their time: fewer parent helpers are available to come in at all. How then can we hope to work with families at the level which would be required to do justice to such a noble ideal?

The second part of this priority, to teach pupils the duties and responsibilities of citizenship in a democratic society, may be more easily achieved. When more people vote for candidates in television's Fame Academy than in a political election, we have to take this issue seriously.

The last but not least priority is Learning for Life, equipping pupils with the foundation skills, attitudes and expectations necessary to prosper in a changing society and encouraging their creativity and ambition.

Those are Scotland's expectations of its educators. At the start of a new session we should set out with the highest possible ideals for our pupils.

I always remind myself what trust parents have in teachers to hand over the future of their children to us all.

Sheilah Jackson is headteacher of Queensferry Primary in Edinburgh

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