The use of free school meals to create performance targets may not be everybodys cup of tea but, according to one Glasgow head, targets themselves are a considerable advance on disembodied league tables.
Tom Burnett, head of St Mungos Academy, is upbeat about his schools results although they do not shine in terms of raw figures. Fourteen per cent of fourth-year pupils achieved five-plus Standard grades 1-2, slightly below the Glasgow average. And 5 per cent got three or more Highers, half the city average.
St Mungos has 52 per cent of its 900-plus pupils on free meals, so one in two pupils suffers disadvantage in one form or another. But Mr Burnett suggests that setting targets which are achievable and then overtaking them gives schools in such circumstances a much-needed shot in the arm.
Rather than have to face a year-on-year demotion to the foot of the league, St Mungos now has good news for parents and staff following targets set by the education authority and agreed with the school.
The number of pupils achieving at least a 6 in Standard grade English is already at 84.7 per cent, three years ahead of its 84 per cent target set for 2001. And the school is just 2 per cent adrift from the target of 84 per cent set for achievement of a Standard grade 1-6 in maths.
St Mungos is also fractionally ahead of its 82 per cent target for five-plus Standard grades 1-6 by 2001, but about 2 per cent short of the 58 per cent required for five or more Standard grades 1-4.
Mr Burnett is particularly pleased that 14 per cent of last sessions fourth year achieved five-plus Standard grades 1-2 against a 12 per cent target for three years hence. In 1993, the figure was 7 per cent. He commented: The staff feel these targets are not insurmountable. It counters the self-fulfilling philosophy of league tables which will always show the same schools at the top and the same at the bottom.
Targets give us something to aspire to and the fact that we are already overtaking some of them is a psychological boost.
Like other heads, Mr Burnett emphasises that there is no magic solution. The school has deployed the usual range of strategies, including a rigorous scrutiny of homework diaries. It also believes there are spin-offs from the introduction of school uniform as well as from pupils success experienced in fields as diverse as drama and Young Enterprise.
St Mungos has also invested heavily in guidance. Mr Burnett says he has effectively given over his senior teacher allocation to guidance, which means the school has 10 guidance teachers.
At Bellarmine Secondary in Pollok, headteacher Frank Corrigan, is pleased his school, serving an area of multiple disadvantage, has pulled back from the brink. Five years ago it was on the verge of closure and 18 per cent of pupils went on to further and higher education. Now a new building beckons and a third go into FE and HE.
We have created an ethos of achievement, ensuring youngsters can achieve success in whatever areas they choose. The whole staff is working on this, building up confidence, Mr Corrigan said.
School uniform, ABC cards which reinforce attendance, behaviour and co-operation, praise slips and supported study are methods of enlisting pupils to the cause of working hard. Some of these kids have never been praised before, he notes.
Jim Dalziel, head of Eastbank Academy, is delighted every 2001 exam target except one has already been met. Five years ago, 5 per cent were getting five-plus credits at Standard grade but this has now risen to 20 per cent.
Over the same period, the number getting five-plus Highers has gone from below 1 per cent to 5 per cent, while 60 pupils are applying for university compared with single figure numbers.
Mr Dalziel says the focus has been on the more able pupils since that was the weakest area. Subject setting has been a key strategy, allowing teachers to introduce alternatives to mixed ability when they want. A learning and teaching group disseminates best practice around departments.
Following an analysis of English results which showed pupils were weaker in folio work and talk, a learning support teacher was dispatched to work with the best prospects. Its a different form of setting, Mr Dalziel said.
Among other strategies, an academic tutor scheme has been introduced to encourage around 15 per cent of the S1 intake 30-40 pupils who from primary school performance show university potential. Each year group has a senior teacher appointed to nurse students along, promoting after-school activities and arranging time on computers.
At senior level, a co-ordinator takes pupils through every stage of applying for higher education, organising visits to universities and liaising with admissions officers. Many families have no experience of university.
As at Bellarmine, raising expectations and self-esteem across the school is fundamental. A praise scheme and supported study add to the list of ways to raise attainment. Support for learning, alternatives to exclusion and skill building in S1 help to form a package of measures.
But winning pupils commitment to study hard in senior school is particularly important. We have got to identify who is doing Safeways and Asda jobs and getting them to be sensible. There are so many different things that can have an effect, Mr Dalziel said.
Girls are still doing better with twice as many girls getting Standard grade Credit awards. Twice the number of girls populate S5 and S6. The girls seem to be so well socialised for life in school, Mr Dalziel says.
Cracking the gender gap is another issue.