Friday, 27 February 2009

United we stand

Like many others who heard the news earlier this week, I was very moved by what I saw on TV of the response to young Ivan Cameron's untimely death. The death of a young child is especially moving; I'm sure there is something instinctive in all of us that motivates us to look after and protect our young and vulnerable. In addition to being moved by the death of Ivan, I was also moved by the way in which all the political players united to share their grief and extend condolences to the Cameron family.

Politics often strikes me as an unpleasant, ruthless world where friendship or even cooperation is rarely in evidence across political divides. Why should this be? Does our country run more efficiently when the decision makers attack rivals at every turn? (Should any of our pupils behave at a school assembly or a classroom as we see elected members behaving in the commons, they would have no place in mainstream education!)

Across the Atlantic, Barack Obama has shown us that you don't need to attack your opponents all of the time to win an election. With the exception of some less than flattering words that were aimed in Sarah Palin's direction, I can not recall an unkind word being attributed to President Obama in the long running election campaign. Why cannot our politicians work together for the benefit of the electorate to get us through the current downturn in the economy? Surely, by having all the political parties working together, scores of families and hard working people might be spared the pain and suffering that comes with unemployment and losing homes. In difficult times such as these we need statesmen to emerge, politics is not for now.

''A politician looks forward only to the next election. A statesman looks forward to the next generation.''(Thomas Jefferson)

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Gaelic Medium Education - Edinburgh's best kept secret?

Professor Colin Baker from the University of Bangor is an expert in bilingual education, and says bilingual children have an advantage in terms of intelligence. "They actually have a higher IQ," he said. "It seems having two languages in the brain stimulates it, adds extra associations into the brain and deepens thinking."

In 1997 just 112 Scottish pupils learned Gaelic. In 2007, 2,601 students were learning it, either in an exclusively Gaelic school, or in a bi-lingual one.
(See BBC webpages for full article)

A friend of mine recently described Tollcross Primary School as Edinburgh's best kept secret. I think what he meant by this is the fact that very few people know about the existence of the Gaelic Unit within Tollcross school and how incredibly well the pupils in the Gaelic school attain academically and achieve so well generally.

Speaking as a parent of two girls who attend the school (one in P1 and another in P4), I am delighted with the education they are receiving. Our older girl is now reading, writing and speaking quite fluently in Gaelic and English, and, pleasingly, is eager to learn other languages. At school she has the opportunity to learn the clarsach (Scottish Harp) and play shinty. Lucy (P1) loves to chat away in Gaelic, especially on the phone!

What though of the future of Gaelic Medium education in Edinburgh? I suspect that as soon as more parents become aware of what is happening at Tollcross Primary school and at other similar bi-lingual schools throughout the world, the growth of Gaelic Medium Education would be incredible. Is this an opportunity to raise attainment for all of our children and to put Edinburgh Council at the forefront of Educational thinking and practice in Scotland's 'Homecoming' year? I am pleased to learn that Edinburgh Council has commissioned a research organisation to evaluate the feasibility of developing Gaelic Medium Education.

In the meantime, sssh. Let's keep it a secret. Bigger numbers being taught in Gaelic at Tollcross would make parking and dropping off the kids even more difficult.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Life beyond the belt

''Smiling approvingly to herself at the effect of only two strokes of the tawse on this persistent late-comer, Mrs Fraser raised the strap again and lashed it down vigorously to smash into the delicate flesh of Fiona's wavering right hand.

The tawse whacked into her stinging hand at full speed. It hurt even more than Fiona had been expecting. Her hand was knocked down by the force of the blow and Fiona almost fell over forward as she doubled over in an automatic reaction. Fiona stayed like that for a few seconds, crying audibly and desperately hoping that that was the end of it and that the headmistress would think that four strokes was sufficient. ''

1982 was the year I started my teaching career. This was the year the belt (known as the 'tawse' in Scotland) stopped being used in Scottish classrooms. At the time, I recall many in the profession expressing fear that this would be the end of schooling as we know it and that our Education system would go into terminal decline. In my view this could not have been further from the truth. The staff entering the profession in the past few years are products of a system that did not rely on belting young people with a piece of leather to maintain control and order. It is my view that these are young professionals who develop higher order skills to create the atmosphere in their classroom that allows learning to flourish.

By way of example,in the past two days, I have had the pleasure of observing two of our excellent younger staff (Ms Thayne in English and Ms Welsh in French)in the classroom. The lessons I saw were first class. A number of things really impressed me. Firstly, both displayed an excellent rapport with the pupils. Both had excellent classroom control; all pupils did as they were supposed to do. Anyone who stepped out of line was gently and skilfully brought back 'on task'. It was clear to me that the pupils in the classes were engaged and active learners, not because they were fearful of the consequences, but because they were sufficiently motivated and stimulated by their teachers to want to do well.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I am wholly convinced that the best teachers are the ones who develop excellent relationships with their charges. That is not to say that the best teachers are 'friends' with the pupils. What really matters is developing a professional relationship with pupils where a common set of values are shared, expectations are sky-high and where respect is always two way.

The second thing that really struck me was how comfortable and skillful both teachers were with using IT. Both showed me some great examples of how to use IT to engage and motivate pupils, in a way that simply wasn't available until quite recently.

A highlight of both the observations for me was, immediately after the lessons, when I engaged in dialogue with both staff about their lessons.

Despite the warnings of impending gloom from many in the profession, when the belt was outlawed in the early 80s, I believe that the standard of teaching on offer in classrooms, and the quality of relationships in schools are light years ahead of where we were 30 years ago.

Monday, 2 February 2009

State versus private

''Children from poorer backgrounds should receive up to £10,000 in credit to allow them to go to independent schools, a think tank has suggested.'' This is the headline that greeted me recently as I perused the BBC website. What a load of rubbish!

The article goes on to to say ''that despite a major increase in funding for education over the past decade, many children were failed by their local schools.''. What evidence is there to suggest that children who fail to take advantage of what state education has to offer would have a different experience in private education?

Given that private education education does not, in the main, add more value to a pupil's educational progress than a state school, (refer to research work undertaken by Lindsay Paterson a few years ago) is there not an overwhelming case for parents of private school pupils to be alerted to this? Imagine the savings that those families could make, particulary in such difficult times as these!