Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Pupil attendance 1

Three weeks ago I was astonished, in truth offended, when we received a call from a parent, in response to a truancy call from our automated parent alert technology, to inform us that her daughter would be off school for the next two weeks as they were going to take advantage of a last minute deal for a holiday in Malta. The fact that the girl concerned was in S3 and in the middle of her S3 exams mattered not a jot. I readily acknowledge that it has been a long winter but I despair when parents choose to take their children off school for 'casual' holidays.

One of the priorities for us in the coming months will be to reduce pupil absenteeism. Currently at Liberton High School, the average attendance is around 90%. In terms of days per pupil this amounts to almost twenty days lost each year. This was one of the main areas for action identified by HMIe in 2006, but, disappointingly, our attendance figures have barely improved over the past two years. In life beyond school, whether it is in a place of further learning or employment, absences of this magnitude would not be tolerated. Why then should we accept this in schools? Should we direct additional (limited) resources to 'supporting' families where attendance is a problem?

The reasons for such high levels of absence aren't easily explained. In truth, neither is it clear as to what actions we should take as a school to impact positively on this area of concern. One thing, however, is very clear to me: The status quo is not an option. Over the coming year I am determined that we will tackle this area with vigour. In the next few posts I intend to develop further what we plan to do in this area. Suggestions from others will be welcomed.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Learning theories

I recently came across a really interesting online discussion about attachment and Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Definitely worth a read! Don Ledingham's blog is really excellent.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Learning from and with others

One of the areas of practice in our school that I discussed in detail with HMIe, during their recent visit, was that of peer observation and learning from others. At Liberton, as happens at many other schools, peer observation is now integral to our CPD programme and how we evaluate our own practice. Peer observation (aka 'sharing classroom experiences') serves many purposes but a key outcome for me is the opportunity to observe staff in the classroom and to identify and celebrate best practices. Staff, generally, don't like being praised publicly and being singled out. How can we overcome this?

The most important part of the observation experience is undoubtedly the professional dialogue that takes place afterwards. When this is done well, both staff involved engage in reflection and dialogue. I am convinced that if we are to continue to develop as a school we must aim to further develop further means of learning from each other. During this coming session it is our intention to develop a primary/secondary reciprocal visits programme. I think this will be really useful in informing our thinking on where we want to go with Curriculum for Excellence and also exploring how Aifl motivated classroom pedagogy has evolved in the different sectors. I look forward to exploring this area further in later posts.

Visit to General Assembly

Along with a few pupils and members of the chaplaincy team I was really proud today to be invited to the General assembly of the Church of Scotland to witness our pupils being awarded the Stevenson prize for religious observance. This is the first time this prize has been awarded so it was really great to be the first secondary school recipient of the award. The prize recognises the incredible input from our chaplaincy team who work in conjunction with our RME department to deliver a first class religious education experience to all our pupils.

The afternoon started off with a lunch in the company of delegates in the hall at St Columba's church. After that we all went off to the General Assembly building at the top of the mound. I must say this was a quite incredible experience. To be in this awe inspiring building and to witness just some of the Assembly proceedings was amazing. Having won this prize a real challenge for the school will now be to consider how we can further develop religious observance and education in our school. The £500 we won today will certainly help.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Independent learning

Earlir this week we decided that it was time to remove the stabilisers from our daughters' bikes. I have to admit that I was rather hesitant to do this. I simply didn't believe they were ready. How wrong I was.

Within 24 hours, after umpteen scrapes and bumps, both girls had mastered the art of balancing and were cycling round the garden as if they had been doing so for years.

Reflecting on what had happened, I feel that the difficulty I had experienced as a child in learning to ride a bike had significantly influenced what I believed my own kids would be capable of. My expectations of my daughters were much lower that they ought to have been. This has really made me think and appreciate how much more difficult it can be to engage educationally with children whose parents had a less than positive school experience. Undoubtedly for me, raising the expectations of all who are associated with my school will be crucial if we are to continue to make progress on our journey to excellence. I also need to think further about how we can remove the 'stabilisers' that can make our pupils so dependent on others and miss out on the really deep learning that takes place when you take control of your own learning.

Friday, 9 May 2008

The fear of failure

Despite Monday being a holiday, this has been an exceptionally busy week. In addition to the perennial pressures and organisational challenges associated with a busy exam schedule, the school is also buzzing with all the usual activities one would expect. For example, today we had a large number of our S2 pupils visiting a local university to find out more about the opportunities available to school leavers. At Liberton High we encourage all of our pupils to aim to achieve University level qualifications. There is nothing to be ashamed about if they don't succeed. However, I do have a real issue with anyone who does not try. So often, in schools, as in life in general, it is people's fear of failure that is the biggest barrier to success. Schools should strive to encourage risk taking; if we don't I would question whether we are adequately preparing our young people for an increasingly competitive life beyond school.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

English Exams

Today was the biggest of the Standard Grade exams this year and was the culmination of of many years hard work. Some will say that the Standard Grade course is a two year course but I much prefer to consider it as an eleven year course. If we do otherwise then surely we undervalue the work done throughout Primary School and in years one and two in Secondary.

Almost inevitably, the day of the English Standard Grade exam is sunny and hot. Such a contrast to the long, wet and cold winter we have just had. When it comes to deliberating about whether to support the proposal to have a winter diet of exams, it will do no harm to think about the benefits that we might gain if our teenagers are able to enjoy more of the May sunshine than they presently do.