NURSERY staff may have an edge over primary and secondary colleagues in assessing personal and social development, Alan Hawke, HM Inspector, suggested last week.
Addressing a conference in the capital to launch the Inspectorate's report on PSD in primaries and the primary stages of special schools, Mr Hawke said structured observation in nurseries by teachers and nursery nurses was proving as effective as any means of assessing a difficult area.
Key workers collectively observe and record the progress of small groups of six to eight children and build a prolife over a year "from the first shy beginnings and unwillingness to get involved in groups where the child does not know other children at all, to the absolute confidence to go around the 25 different activities in the nursery and throw themselves into it".
Special schools were also showing progress in assessment but primaries were only effective in judging pupils' social development in half of schools. In many, assessment was "informal, impressionistic and unrecorded". Where there was good practice it was "structured, goal-related and recorded".
Mr Hawke suggested pupil self-assessment was a practical solution for many schools. A few had formed this into a record of achievement or progress file.
In an unaccustomed tribute from the Inspectorate, Mr Hawke said that overall PSD in primaries was very good or good in more than 90 per cent of schools and fair in just 5 per cent. The evidence was based on 140 inspections between 1995 and 1998 and another 24 sample inspections in 1998.
"Schools do well in providing a good ethos, in caring for their pupils and in trying in general ways to develop them personally and socially," Mr Hawke stated.
PSD was vital for all pupils and was not to be regarded as compensation for poor academic performance. The parody of "You know, you can't do sums dear, but you've got a very nice smile" was not acceptable.
Mr Hawke said that progress in pupil development was linked to core attainment areas in language and maths. "There is a cyclical aspect here. Success in attainment breeds confidence and self-esteem and makes for more success. But without the initial self-esteem that comes from that intense work on PSD from the pre-five stage onwads, you are not going to get children having the confidence to learn new things and relating to adults in the classroom and their peers.
"So attainment affects PSD and PSD affects attainment. We are not talking about two things, one compensating for the other."
Good practice in whole-school developments, such as positive discipline strategies, buddy systems and circle time, were evident across the country. Assemblies were now used as a major vehicle for recognition and achievement in school and out, with praise for pupils a constant theme. Charity work, pupil councils, residential visits and even enterprise initiatives were other features.
Mr Hawke observed: "Circle time is practically universal in primary schools, although I have some reservations about it, not the principle but the practice. Sometimes it seemed to be boring and repetitive. If the nature of what happens in circle time doesn't really change from primary 1 to primary 7, pupils can get very blase about it and can say things they know they are expected to say. This defeats the whole purpose of circle time because it is one time in the school day they can say what they are really thinking."
Ian Barr, 3-14 director of the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum, said schools had legitimate concerns about PSD when there were so many additional burdens, such as citizenship education, education for work, enterprise education and social inclusion.
"We all recognise PSD is absolutely fundamental and an important means to better attainment of all kinds but we do have some difficulties in making sense of it all," Mr Barr said.
The area was "confused and needed clarification" but it could deliver big educational objectives.
He ventured that all secondary teachers needed to take on more responsibility for personal and social development, something they had not always done. The curriculum council has begun work on effective PSD programmes in primaries and secondaries and will publish its findings next year.
Leader, page 18
Educating the Whole Child: Personal and Social Development in Primary Schools and the Primary Stages of Special Schools is available from the Stationery Office Bookshop, 71 Lothian Road, Edinburgh EH3 9AZ (0870 606 5566).