It’s rare to read an article on education in Glasgow that doesn’t start by reeling off all the reasons why attainment has historically been lower than average in our fair city. I’m not going to do that. What’s more relevant is what we are doing in Glasgow to radically improve our levels of attainment and why we at Glasgow City Council believe that achieving this is key to the future of our city.
Earlier this Session, Leader of the Council, Gordon Matheson, convened a policy working group for the administration to look into achieving our manifesto commitment to close the attainment gap between ourselves and the Scottish average, and this work has been spearheaded by Executive Member for Education, Stephen Curran. Over the past year, we’ve been looking outside Glasgow, and indeed Scotland, to find how other Local Authorities with broadly similar demographics have worked to improve their levels of attainment and examining literature on global best practice. We’ve combined that with an in-depth analysis of our current performance and an examination of existing best practice in Glasgow’s schools. This process will, by its’ nature, be on-going but we have now identified a number of key elements in achieving that success.
The first is the importance of fostering high expectations, amongst staff, parents and, most importantly, the young people themselves. Our young people have just as much potential as those in neighbouring Local Authorities, but to unlock that, we all have to raise our ideas of what it is possible for us to achieve. Supporting that sense of self-belief, is an appreciation of the importance of excellent behaviour, which allows everyone to learn, and a zero tolerance approach to bullying. For our young people to have the confidence to really stretch themselves, school has to feel like a completely safe environment.
Part of developing those high expectations is broadening the horizons of our young people, securing access to quality work experience, facilitating exposure to a wide range of positive influences and experiences.
The phrase which has presented itself time and time again throughout our period of research is ‘support and challenge’, for pupils, for staff and for ourselves. Inherent in this is the significance of ensuring that pupils have ownership of their own learning. Setting ambitious goals in a co-operative way with pupils and then working with them to provide support in achieving these will only work if all parties are fully signed up to the work involved. Tracking the progress of pupils in a meaningful way, securing up to date information which is then shared with the pupil and their parents, allows for interventions to be made at an early stage and targeted in a way that best addresses any issues, whether that consists of supported study, tutoring or access to a mentor.
Targets are only helpful if they provide challenge. One Glasgow Head Teacher presented a useful distinction between ‘on track’ and ‘on target’, essentially, where the pupil would most likely end up versus what they were capable of achieving.
The concept of ‘support and challenge’ also throws down the gauntlet to elected members to fully engage with and offer support to individual schools within their ward.
The support element of ‘support and challenge’ is particularly important when it comes to our teachers. The importance of innovative teaching and learning cannot be underestimated and we can only ensure that we have the highest quality teaching in our classrooms by investing in our teachers, providing opportunities for shared learning and exposure to new approaches and thinking.
Finally, we have to offer support to each school in a way that fits their individual needs and challenges, offering expert, bespoke support to ensure that every establishment supports their young people in achieving their full potential.
Broken down like this, it all sounds very straightforward, but of course there are challenges to be faced: engagement with parents is key to the success of this strategy and we need to look at how to increase the confidence of parents to really engage with their child’s learning; freeing teachers up to engage in shared learning is tough against a backdrop of intense financial pressures; giving Head Teachers the freedom to make the best decisions for their own school whilst raising standards across the board.
Glasgow is developing a great record of attracting skilled jobs, but we also need to ensure that our young Glaswegians are best placed to compete for those jobs. The importance of securing those qualifications first time round is becoming ever more pressing, as cuts to the Further Education sector make it harder for adult returners to access education.
Our approach to nurturing our youngest children in Glasgow aims to improve the resilience of children and support them to develop the skills required to deal with the challenges and changes of life. Our commitment to achieving a step change in our levels of attainment aims to do the same for our city, to increase our resilience as a population, empowering us to approach a shifting employment market and a changing society with robust transferable skills coupled with the concrete qualifications necessary to access the futures we aspire to.
This level of transformation can’t happen overnight and it can be hard to commit to a long-term vision in a media environment which expects immediate results. That’s why I’m proud to be part of an administration with the dedication to our city to look beyond the instant political hit and instead look to the legacy we can bequeath to the next generation of Glaswegians.
Judith Fisher is a Councillor for Drumchapel/Anniesland on Glasgow City Council and is a member of the Children and Families Policy Development Committee. You can follow her on Twitter: @FisherJudith