At the time of writing, I’ve just hit send on an email to a Scottish council asking to interview one of its headteachers who became a head at the age of 25, had a poor inspection three months later but then transformed the school in around 40 weeks. In all likelihood, that primary will be the focus of a six-page feature in Tes Scotland magazine.
Last week I visited an Edinburgh secondary that runs a “bring your parent to school day”, allowing mums and dads and carers to follow an S1 timetable for the day. I went along despite the fact that the day includes a period of PE. This is proof – given most of my school career was dedicated to avoiding that particular subject – that Tes Scotland reporters are unflinching and totally selfless in their bid to shine a light on the best of what’s going on in Scottish schools.
A common criticism of the Scottish press, however, is that there is not enough focus on the good things happening in schools and too much emphasis on the bad. Education secretary John Swinney and the EIS teaching union general secretary Larry Flanagan launched into this very subject at the Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow last month.
Behaviour: How one Scottish school beat the bullies
School transitions: Why we need to talk about them
“There’s a narrative of failure in Scottish schools that is totally off the mark,” said Mr Flanagan. “I think the work going on across the country in schools day in, day out is truly remarkable and it does not get trumpeted enough.
Great work in Scottish education
“Education only gets reported in terms of news, and news usually means something has gone wrong and all the good stuff that’s going on all the time is known by the parents and the local community, but it doesn’t get a big profile.”
Mr Swinney, for his part, said that teaching “utterly transforms lives” but that he didn’t think that message was “received and understood as much as it needs to be in our society”.
Perhaps the message was aimed at newspapers, which are not covering education as thoroughly as they used to, because every week Tes Scotland – while also digging into what could be improved in Scottish education – carries thousands of words about the great things going on around the country. These articles have, just to take a couple of examples, looked at the other side of schools that have struggled to escape historically poor reputations, such as Peterhead Academy in Aberdeenshire (see next week’s issue), or the West Lothian primary schools that deployed a small army of cuddly toys to help create more empathetic and caring classrooms (‘The “teddy bear schools” transforming behaviour management’, 23 August).
It is rare that such stories fall in our laps – we get a lead then go out and find them. While the plea to teachers to “talk up teaching” is heard often, the truth is that national bodies and councils do a poor job of this. Doubtless, this has much to do with lack resources, although some local authorities and headteachers have become adept at self-promotion – they realise the power a few column inches has to transform the way their school is perceived.
But these schools are not unique: just about every school in the land is doing something worth shouting about. If you talk to any teacher for long enough, something innovative, fascinating or downright quirky will emerge – it’s just a matter of finding out what it is.
Unfortunately, these potentially great stories often get lost amid arcane curricular developments or box-ticking jargon that obscures the human side of school life. If you think you have a great story the world should know about, relying on others to spread the word may not get you very far.
We’ll continue, though, to do our level best to cut through the fog and find the stories that resonate, that get to the heart of all that is good in Scottish education. We strive to report both the lows and the highs of the Scottish education – so if you know of an example of the latter, just get in touch.
Emma Seith is a senior reporter at Tes Scotland. She tweets @Emma_Seith. Email her your ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org