JUST how much improvement is needed in Scottish schools is clear from an analysis of inspections carried out by Education Scotland (formerly HM Inspector of Education) over the last four years.
It shows almost one-third of secondary schools in the most deprived areas are weak or unsatisfactory.
This a deeply troubling statistic, particularly in comparison with 90% of secondary schools in the least deprived areas being rated satisfactory or better. The additional difficulties faced by pupils in the most deprived areas, such as lack of support at home, make it more challenging for headteachers and teachers to provide positive and successful learning. Yet 10% of secondary schools in the most deprived areas were found to be very good or better and 43% were judged good or better.
By assessing the quality of teaching, how well the needs of all learners are met and the vision and leadership displayed by the head and principal teachers, these findings by inspectors offer a much broader picture of a school's performance than league tables of examination results.
They should be used to identify ways to bring unsatisfactory schools up to standard. It is not enough that most schools in deprived areas provide a decent education for their pupils when, by accident of geography, 10% of young people from similar backgrounds will be consigned to unsatisfactory schools and another 10% will benefit from very good ones. The difference between spending their formative teenage years in a negative atmosphere or in a school where learning is encouraged will be key in determining the rest of their lives. A significant factor in this difference will be the commitment and ability of staff to provide a positive oasis for young people for whom negativity is too often the norm.
That requires sustained leadership and the gulf between the 10% of secondaries in deprived areas which are unsatisfactory or weak and the 10% which are very good or better will be largely set by the effectiveness of the headteacher and senior management in supporting staff and inspiring pupils.
This is not to disregard the additional needs of these schools. Most will have more than their fair share of pupils who require learning support or have behavioural problems. They require, and should receive, more resources to deal with these problems than schools in the most affluent suburbs. Professor Brian Boyd's suggeestion of reprising the scheme under which teachers were paid to more to work in schools in deprived areas merits close examination.
Last month, Brian McAlinden, a former headteacher of Castlemilk High School in Glasgow, suggested to MSPs that teachers and headteachers should be employed on five-year fixed term contracts as a means of driving up standards. The unions who oppose it as the casualisation of the teaching profession should not be blind to the benefits of setting a clear timescale for improvement. Seconding heads from successful schools to struggling ones is another option. All good teachers want their pupils to achieve their full potential and, where the odds are stacked against them, it is doubly important to ensure they do just that.
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