Together we can be the best

13th April 2001 at 01:00
Drafting in the community has brought top marks for a Paisley primary, reports David Henderson

Ferguslie primary, in one of the most disadvantaged communities in the west of Scotland, is the latest school to be put through the HMI mill and come out with a sparkling report - but with no ministerial note of recognition.

The Paisley primary has underlined that schools in the most unfavourable community circumstances can help pupils to achieve. Of 22 standard performance indicators used to assess schools, Ferguslie received 15 very goods and seven goods. No aspects were fair or unsatisfactory.

Mary Taylor, who has been head for 10 years, attributes the school's success to the principles of joint working, a key theme behind the new community schools initiative.

"We have a belief that people can work together and make a real difference.

Schools and teachers cannot do this alone," Mrs Taylor said.

A combination of voluntary and professional help was behind the drive to ensure all children achieved some success at something, a point acknowledged by the inspectors who say the joint assessment team provided strong support for pupils. The role of the homelink teacher has also been important, Mrs Taylor said.

The inspectors' report notes that more than 160 of the 200 pupils are entitled to free meals, an indicator of the challenge facing staff.

"We have to take account of where children are starting from but that is not an excuse for not attaining," Mrs Taylor said. "We set pupil performance against what they have achieved and what more they can achieve.

I look upon the school as improving year on year rather than looking elsewhere at league tables. When we first set targets three years ago, we recognised that we must do better."

Monthly checks on any pupil who was not doing as well as exected helped to pick up difficulties that could be tackled jointly.

Like others, the school stresses success, holding weekly praise assemblies.

Initially seen as not cool, even the sceptical P7s are clamouring for school recognition, Mrs Taylor says. "It could be someone achieving a level in a national test, children reading something for the first time or even staff who have done well in something. We have a praise board at assembly with pieces of work on it, or it could be a model that was developed in technology. Everyone's good at something."

The inspectors say teachers had high expectations for attainment, attendance and behaviour, even if "the behaviour of some pupils did not always match these expectations".

Mrs Taylor said: "There is no doubt we have a number of children experiencing difficulties and we have a discipline policy with strategies to support teachers in class or out." Pupils can still be excluded if they fail to meet behaviour standards.

Stephen McKenzie, Renfrewshire's head of quality assurance, said the school used additional resources well and targeted them at pupils' learning needs, introducing personal learning plans. "Mrs Taylor does set high targets in terms of pupils' own achievements and parents are proud of their school," Mr McKenzie said.

Ferguslie primary is the council's second most disadvantaged school and will shortly join the second phase of the new community schools initiative.

But it performs above its status. Reading targets are above what might be expected, as are maths results, and showing significant improvements each year.

"The school is containing the gender differences in reading and writing and in maths there is no gender difference. It is motivating the boys and that is part of the initiatives on self-esteem," Mr McKenzie said.

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