IT shows what can be achieved with the right strategy and talented staff.
Pupils at Glasgow's comprehensive schools have long been labelled as "underperforming", compared with pupils in other areas, but the tide appears to be turning at last. A Herald analysis of inspection reports of the last five years shows that more schools are coming out well from their inspections, exam performance has improved, attendance is up and exclusions are down. Glasgow's higher-than-average levels of deprivationare a significant factor in the performance of its schools, but this is not used as an excuse.
This is a welcome trend, made all the more impressive by the fact it is taking place in the teeth of recession. If young people living in Scotland's deprived communities are to escape a cycle of poverty and lack of opportunity, education will be their passport.
Strong leadership has contributed to this change. A visionary, energetic headteacher, who has the backing of the local authority and the trust of staff, is pivotal in changing the culture and aspirations of a school.
A move by the local authority to take action where teachers are underperforming has also helped. Better training and a willingness to move those who fall consistently short into non-teaching jobs has made a significant difference.
What's more, pupils are expected to do better, both in terms of attending school and engaging while there.
Yet the job is not done. Years of improvement will be needed before Glasgow's pupils reach the levels of attainment they deserve. Glasgow City Council has been prepared to invest in this improvement; that investment must now continue and, when conditions allow, be increased.
Further measures might also be considered. Teaching in schools where pupils are dealing with a catalogue of social, health and emotional problems, is supremely challenging, but for too long this has not been reflected either in the status of teachers working in deprived communities, or perhaps in their pay. Teachers are not magicians – they cannot eliminate a child's background difficulties – but they can inspire, enthuse, nurture and support. Where they do, and open a child's eyes to the joy and the value of education, it is impossible to put a price on their achievement.
Arguably, though, we should try. Brian Boyd, emeritus professor of education at Strathclyde University, has suggested offering pay enhancements to the most gifted teachers to come to the schools where their skills could have the most dramatic effects. Many such teachers are already working in such schools, but where they are not, they are very much needed. This simple idea could help sustain the momentum of this ongoing improvement.
The much-criticised comprehensive school system has been highly successful over decades in helping give children from all backgrounds access to opportunity, but challenges remain in equalising the experience of pupils in different schools with differing levels of social deprivation. Improvement is possible, though; the key now will be to keep it going.
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