Saturday, 26 April 2008

League Tables

It seems to me that during this past week league tables, allegedly depicting performance and achievement, across a range of activities, have dominated the newspapers I choose to read. Throughout the week, as we have throughout the season, the back pages of most newspapers keep us posted as to how our footballing teams are progressing. Earlier this week we had the publication of school league tables based on pass rates in exams. Today, a headline in the Times, forewarns me that tomorrow's Times will have a league table showing our country's highest earners over the past year. I can hardly wait.

As I drove back home from chaufeuring my daughters to their ballet classes I was reflecting on when a league table might actually be useful and when it is not. In the context of football, where winning the league is the ultimate prize, there is no doubt in my mind that the publication of the league table is essential and useful. Football teams are in direct competition with each other and rivalry between opposing teams is what their marketing and survival depends on. League tables to show who is the richest is entertaining and probably sells newspapers but is really no more than useless gossip. In the context of schools though, I have a big issue with putting schools in league tables, based on data that is fundamentally flawed. It can be argued that:

  • League tables for schools take no account of pupils' starting points or progress made since arriving at that school.
  • League tables take no account of social factors that may impact on pupil performance.
  • Schools who have entrance exams or use other means of selecting their intake (E.g. catchment area)tend to do better.
  • Senior (S5 and S6) school exam pass rate calculations are based on the roll when that group of pupils was in S4. In the context of Liberton High School, where more that 50% choose to leave school at the end of S4, it is hugely misleading to compare our exam pass rate with schools where staying on rates are close to 90%.
In trying to maximise opportunity for all of our learners, should the emphasis be on putting schools in direct competition with each other? Is there more to be gained by scrapping our league table mentality and developing a genuine culture of collaboration and partnership between genuinely comprehensive schools?

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Edinburgh's best kept secret?

Whenever I tell someone that my daughter attends a Gaelic medium school in the centre of Edinburgh the response, invariably, is one of surprise. That a gaelic medium school should exist, indeed thrive, so far from the traditional gaelic heartland catches people completely unaware. The children at the school are taught exclusively through the medium of gaelic. A number of the children have parents who can converse with them in gaelic but not all. Our older daughter is now in Primary three and perfectly bilingual in Gaelic and English. She loves school; I am convinced she would attend at weekends given the opportunity!

One of the fears that prospective parents have about enrolling their child at the school is that education exclusively through Gaelic, in a predominantly English based society, will inhibit the development of their child's English language development. Amazingly, the converse is true. The gaelic medium pupils, after a short intensive course in English at the end of P3, not only demonstrate that they have caught up with their monolingual peers, but have in fact overtaken them. I believe that this unexpected anomaly is also evident in other countries where more than one language is practised.

As parents, we are absolutely delighted with the quality of experience on offer at Tollcross Primary School. If Gaelic is to survive, Education as our daughter experiences, is going to be pivotal. An t-ionnsachadh og, an t-ionnsachadh boidheach!

Monday, 14 April 2008

Staffing update

It's that time of year again when, as a headteacher, I am working hard with colleagues in trying to get our staffing organised for next session.

Last week we were able to appoint a Biology teacher to Liberton HS to replace Ms Sarwar who left us at the February break. I was really impressed at the quality of the three candidates we shortlisted; I would have been delighted to have welcomed any one of them onto our staff. For the first time in my experience we observed all the applicants teaching a class. ( I was so pleased to see that only one pupils across three classes needed to borrow a pencil. This level of preparedness, as many who know me, is something I value highly). This approach has been used by privated schools for years. I foresee that this will be standard practice at Liberton High from now on.

Of course, as most will know, our staffing complement is based on pupil numbers and, as our roll is projected to fall to just under 700 next session, this means that we have to declare some staff surplus. I have to say that is one of the least pleasant parts of my job. As someone who had direct experience of being declared surplus (Firrhill HS 1986) I fully understand and can sympathise with those in this situation and the feelings associated with being in this position. Not surprisingly, I think the longer a member of staff has been at a school, the harder it can be to uproot and move elsewhere. On a positive note I am delighted to say that both staff involved have been highly professional in their response and I hope they can be quickly and painlessly relocated to another Edinburgh school.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Back to business

It was back to school yesterday after a relaxing 2 week Easter vacation. It's amazing how differently we all approach matters when we are refreshed and relaxed. The term that has just passed was a very stressful and busy one for staff at Liberton High. Not only did staff and pupils have the usual pressures of SQA deadlines and folio completion to contend with but we also had our follow through inspection with HMIe. I found the whole HMIe experience to be quite stressful; I know that colleagues hold a similar view. One of the areas I have been reflecting on recently, particularly, since the tragic death of a HT colleague in the borders, is how schools, local authorities and HMIe can more effectively work together to manage school evaluation. I am convinced that self-evaluation (i.e. evaluation carried out by school staff within the school as part of an on-going improvement process) is the most important and effective means to improving educational outcomes for learners. What are the arguments for external moderation? Why do the Finnish and Irish education systems, which have a very different moderation model to ours, regularly outperform us in the various international comparisons?