One of my colleagues recently sent me this quote:
“It’s not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?”
I try to make sure my busy days are effective for the many.
Recognising Achievement in our schools is all part of the cycle of assessment and planning and reporting. George Sinclair from Education Scotland spoke very passionately about the need for us to embrace all achievement in the contexts of the curriculum, the classroom, the community of the school and the wider community. George made the point that we need to move away from compartmentalising our children’s’ achievements. Along with our staff we need to help children understand that learning takes place out of the classroom. We need to recognise this learning and use it to support classroom assessments.
Following George’s presentation there was a discussion about the abilities developed by some children who have to care for others. They will have organisational and sometimes financial awareness skills beyond many of their peers. How do we ensure this is part of their own understanding of themselves as a learner? We need to find ways of truly noting this and helping the children to see those skills as part of the whole person and not something that is only useful out of school. There are many models of profiling that will help but clearly it is through learning conversations and dialogue that we will discover these skills and that children have it reinforced that we value all their skills.
We cannot “deliver” it all in classes or through our clubs and after school opportunities. Where else can we look? There are very good opportunities within citizenship awards for example the Duke of Edinburgh, this is slightly more challenging for primary colleagues, however volunteer organisations and charitable groups do offer very good opportunities for learning. The Children’s University which is a charity and supported by Universities across Britain gives children credit for learning in a wide variety of settings. This includes libraries, shops, youth groups, museums and even graveyards and focuses on getting accredited learning opportunities that children can access with no transport, money and often independently of their parents. We can choose whatever method/group/award that will meet the needs of our own communities but that message is clear – make it part of what you do anyway.
It may be that this will be a target for you within your SIP. Most schools will have gathered a great deal of self-evaluation evidence and will be agreeing targets. I think it is increasingly difficult to find the time for the schools’ own work. There will be national targets such as Professional Update which will need time this year, Local Authority targets, usually behaviour management , definitely moderation looking at achieving levels across all areas of the curriculum, and possibly another focus. Education Scotland have provided support documentation for achieving levels in all curricular areas on their web site. Schools and Local Authorities will be working on these with their staff.
Leaders must be by clear about the evidence they have which guides them to set their targets for improvement. Resist those who would like you to meet their targets by undertaking projects in the school. It is crucial that you focus on pursuing the improvement that your knowledge and understanding tells you is truly needed. This is a time to be firm and explain that you cannot do everything.
At the moment I am grappling with the many awards and accredited schemes that require continuing annual development. I have found that many of these have become person dependent and the loss of that person can often mean the loss of the award, as current pressures mean that staff find further commitments very hard to take on. I am trying to change our approach to ensure our curriculum will cover the criteria, however this takes time to do and I may not be the only person in Scotland who finds the flag or certification will lapse until this can be better embedded. Another casualty of the current climate we are working in.
On the matter of having to prioritise our time and actions, we wrote to Bill Maxwell about the further raised expectations to be announced by Education Scotland for session 2014-2015. He has responded to our concerns by making clear that there will be minimal change in recognition of the need for consolidation and a realistic approach to developments in our schools. Education Scotland have met with us on a number of a occasions in recent months and there is an understanding of the need for schools to be clear about these expectations and how they will meet them year on year. These are targets which need to be included in all SiPs.
Mr Maxwell also noted that there will be a focus in primaries on promoting a reduction in bureaucracy around planning and assessment. We very much support this action. It is important that Local Authorities contribute to this by aligning key documents. Can a Standards and Quality report also be the Education Authority Perspective? Could the parents have a shorter letter type document noting progress and the next steps? What about the annual report? In many Local Authority areas a dialogue is needed about the length of this report which neither teachers or parents are particularly happy with, and heaven help any parent with their own literacy issues! What can be done here? Why can’t the report be a summary of the child as a learner, with the parent and child comment, written in language that is not jargonistic and is individual to the child. Do parents need to know what Es and Os the children have covered? It is definitely time to start the discussion about how we can report better in a less bureaucratic form.
I also mentioned the need to have a plan for supporting the roll out of Professional Update. Every teacher has had a letter and information delivered to their home address from GTCS. There was clear information and guidance and as all teachers will need to undertake this from August, I would recommend that there is time for developing approaches within your Improvement Plan.
So with all of this to come and much to be completed within the next month, what are you looking forward to in the holidays? Will you soak up the sun and forget about the weans? Will you enjoy Scotland, using our wonderful scenery (alongside rain, midges and your aching legs) to distract you from the new session? Will you cheer and whoop at our athletes in the Commonwealth games? Whatever you do, please take time to enjoy your family, friends and have a really good well-earned rest.
Ann McIntosh, AHDS President