The natural reaction to the news that Glasgow City Council has introduced a tracking system to identify why some pupils leave school with few or no qualifications is:
why on was it not doing so already? The only way to improve the prospects of pupils who are doing least well in school is to find out what is going wrong in the first place. Councils can only take action when they have the facts.
Now the initiative is under way, the council has identified almost 350 fourth-year pupils who failed to achieve five or more awards at foundation level Standard Grade last year. Schools have been asked to name the individuals and report to the council on why they have not reached this basic level of qualification.
Identifying pupils in this way might seem like an obvious thing to do, but it is the first step in reminding schools that they can and should be held accountable when pupils struggle. The figures collected by the tracking system will be published every year and will reveal whether schools have improved or fallen back.
The system also has the potential to improve the long-term prospects of pupils who are struggling by intervening directly to help them with some of the practical problems that may be getting in the way of their succeeding in exams. A teacher might, for example, drive a pupil to school on the day of an exam. In other cases, it may be a case of identifying barriers to learning in class.
We already know from similar intervention strategies operated by social workers that direct intervention has a good track record in turning around the fortunes of children and families who are struggling. In deprived communities, it can be particularly effective and could build on the improvements that have already been achieved in many parts of Glasgow. And although the numbers of pupils involved at present are small, the project also has the much wider potential to tackle the problem of teenagers not in education, employment or training, or Neets.
However, it is not just in deprived communities that the tracking and intervention strategy has the potential to make great changes because pupils can start to struggle in all kinds of different environments. In high-achieving schools too, some pupils can struggle to fit in to the way things are done but may not be noticed because the school as a whole is doing well in examinations. The tracking system could identify such pupils and develop a way of helping them.
Naturally, a system that involves closer work with some pupils will involve more staff hours and this may end up putting an extra burden on teachers in an era of tightening budgets. However, the potential payoff is huge. Not only will it help schools focus on a problem which, until now, has gone largely unrecorded, it could also transform the lives of pupils who are struggling. A pupil's educational prospects rely on a range of factors inside and outside school and an intervention strategy that identifies and deals with these factors could, in the long term, help more pupils perform to the best of their ability.
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