Last night I spoke to parents and carers at my school.
The text of what I said is here (more or less) and there is a video below:
Parental engagement event 28.3.17
Good evening and welcome, to everyone who has come here tonight…and also to those who may be watching after the event on video at a later date.
This evening is in three parts.
The first involves me talking and explaining some things about our school which I hope you will find interesting.
The second involves us having refreshments, a chat and a raffle…. but that bit only applies to those of us in the room.
And the third involves us watching a very powerful film with a strong message for our community. Fortunately viewers at home can see that part too as it is available online and the link will be shared.
My name is Lena Carter and I am the Head of Secondary Teaching and Learning here at Lochgilphead High School.
I think that most of you know me and, with the exception of some of the pupils in S6 who I never really got to teach or work with, I know your children well. I was stage head last year for the current S5 and I am stage head now for S3 and S4. Being Stage Head means that I have the overview of the year group, monitor their progress and help them through the key parts of the year. I also teach drama to all pupils in S1 and S2 and currently I also teach some French to S3. In my spare time, I am also directing this year’s school play.
My two children attend the High School.
I have been teaching for the best part of 25 years. I started my career in the south in London and Cambridgeshire, then moved north to Cumbria and the Outer Hebrides before coming to Argyll in 2013.
So, what does it actually mean to be head of Teaching and Learning and why did I want to take on the job?
First and foremost, it is about ensuring that what happens in our classrooms and our school enables your children to get the most out of their school experience as they possibly can and to be able to make a positive contribution to the world they live in.
The curriculum is the word that we use to describe the totality of learning experiences that our pupils experience; it is about what we teach, when we teach it and how we teach it or, in other words, what pupils learn, when they learn it and how they learn it. It is my job to work with staff to ensure that all of our pupils have curriculum opportunities through which they develop skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work and grow into the best possible versions of themselves.
Within this, it is not possible to have a one-size fits all approach; each one of our pupils is an individual on a personal pathway that needs to be right for them; we may have future tree-surgeons and brain-surgeons in the room, future musicians and future magicians and so there is no one learning journey that suits all. . Success for one pupil may look very different to success for another.
As a school we are judged partly through the assessments and exam results that we produce and there is no denying that these are important. Formal qualifications are the currency that allow our pupils to compete in a world where opportunities are sometimes hard to come by and it is for that reason that we want all of our pupils to leave school with the absolute best results that they can.
But being the absolute best is about more than just qualifications.
In our Learn to Learn and PSE classes and our assemblies, we focus a great deal on the idea of being reflective learners and of using all situations, both in and out of school, as learning opportunities. The successes and mistakes. The highs and the lows.
Our pupils know that being the best is also about being helpful, being loving, being understanding and being a good human being.
So, my job is hugely exciting and I consider myself very lucky to have it.
This year we have undertaken a major review of our curriculum to ensure that we build on the strengths of our existing curriculum and make improvements where they are need.
The pupils have played a big part in this and we have used number of opportunities to ask them for their ideas on how to make things better:
In the autumn, all pupils in S3 and S4 completed anonymous surveys relating to their experiences of school and learning. The responses were incredibly helpful to us and have already resulted in improvement activities; for example, a number of pupils told us that they would like more personal individualised feedback on their work and so we have shared this with staff and asked them to make it happen.
Over the last 2 terms, all pupils in S1 have been interviewed about their experience of school and their feedback has also helped us to address the issues important to them; in particular, they have helped us to address issues around ensuring that respect is at the heart of all interactions in school.
We have also established a pupil voice group this year where pupil representatives have met face to face with a group of staff to discuss the ways in which pupils’ voices can be made even stronger moving forward. They have made proposals for a new pupil council group which will be established next year.
They have told us about how they want us to support them with their mental health.
They have told us that they want better information and support around equalities and LGBT issues.
And they have also made strong representation that we should have some mechanism for pupils having an opportunity to meet with the same key adult every day, perhaps through a tutor group registration system. We are currently exploring ways to implement this in the new timetable.
All S2 pupils and their parents have been involved in and anonymous consultation around how we tackle bullying behaviours in school and the responses to that are being collated and reviewed to help us make sure that find the right ways to help pupils have positive relationships with others.
Finally this year, we have introduced an Options system that has made the pupils the starting point; rather than asking them to fit into a pre-determined set of option blocks, we have tried to create the option blocks around what they need and want. Early indications show that this will lead to increased pupil satisfaction and more pupil needs being met. The final conversations and decisions about options will take place after Easter.
And why then, did I want to talk to you tonight?
I am now going to say something controversial.
Parents are the main educators in their children’s lives.
As such, it is vital to measure and understand parents’ and families’ influence on children’s outcomes. A range of international evidence has shown that children and young people who have at least one parent or carer engaged in their education achieve better exam results, higher retention rates and smoother transitions between nursery, primary and secondary schools. They are also more likely to:
• attend school more regularly;
• have better social skills;
• have improved behaviour;
• adapt better to school and engage more in school work;
• have better networks of supportive relationships;
• have a better sense of personal competence; and
• be more likely to go on to further or higher education.
Source: Scottish Government
This is not about schools trying to shirk responsibility. It is not about us saying that our role in your child’s education is not crucial because it is. But it is saying that we have to work together and ensure that we communicate clearly, effectively and efficiently with one another if we are to do the best for our children.
And this is something we know we need to do better at.
We have worked really hard on improving communication in here over the last year.
We have asked you all to sign up for our messenger communications system which allows us to send texts, emails and letters to you.
If at all possible, we have encouraged you to download the Xpressions app to your device as this enables us to send you short messages for free which, in times of tights budgets, is really helpful.
If you don’t have the app, we send you text messages with key information.
If we need to send you a letter, we now do this via email (which again saves money and the environment), or for the approximately 32 parents and carers amongst you who do not have email, we still post out letters.
We have hugely improved our website and update it regularly with key information, as well as a weekly news blog from Ann Devine, our Campus Principal.
We have a Joint Campus Facebook page which has proven hugely popular amongst many of you.
But communication is a two way process. It is not just about us telling you things.
The next part of our task is to work out how we can get more of you communicating with us in a way that you feel comfortable with and in a way that will help our children.
Because, in the same way as we have listened to our pupils over the last year to move things forward, we need to find ways of making sure that you are heard too.
Of course it is fantastic and hugely encouraging to see so many of you here tonight. Thank you.
We also have a hugely supportive but small parent council who meet with us regularly to help hear your voices.
But to those of you who are not here tonight, I want to ask you why?
Is that you had a prior engagement?
Is that you felt intimidated about coming into school?
Is it that school was a bad experience for you?
Is it that you don’t feel heard by the school and that there’s no point in trying?
Is that you don’t feel that you are the sort of parent who come to things like this?
Is it that you were worried you might have to speak to people, or be judged?
Is it that you are happy with the way things are?
Is that you would rather watch the video?
I can’t answer for those who aren’t here but what I do know is that we need the answers to some of these questions
In school, we do the absolute best we can with the resources we have to support our children. We don’t always get it 100% and we can only know that we aren’t if you tell us.
But we also need to know that they experience a life that is fair, safe and full of opportunity when they are outside of our environment.
We know that this will not be the case if they are out drinking alcohol from a young age.
We know that this will not be the case if they are taking drugs.
We know that this will not be the case if they are engaging in inappropriate sexual activity.
We know that this will not be the case if they do not have clear boundaries.
If we as adults and parents cannot define the safe boundaries for our children then we need to be honest about it and ask for help.
There is no shame in this. We end up in this parenting role with very little preparation and if we are lucky enough to have had good role models in our families, then we probably do a good enough job.
But if we are struggling to get it right, we need to be honest and say so.
As a school leader, I don’t want you as parents to feel that you need to struggle alone. We need you to be honest and work with us so that we can create the environment both in and out of school that will allow our children to thrive.
I have heard parents say that they don’t want to share ‘personal’ information with school and that stuff that happens at home is none of school’s business. But everything I have learnt in my twenty plus years of teaching shows that pupils achieve best when information is shared that may help us to support children.
If your family dog has died and your child comes into school upset, it helps us to care for them if we know.
If you are under pressure because of a sick relative and family life is difficult, it helps for us to care for your child if we know.
If you can’t afford school shoes until after payday, it helps for us to care for your child if we know.
If you struggle to read the letters that come home about your child, it helps for us to care for your child if we know.
If you struggle to get up in the morning and face the day, it helps for us to care for your child if we know.
It takes a village to raise a child. But we will only raise that child well if the adults in the village are honest, willing to work together and able to ask for help when they need it.
So, to return to what I said before.
We have to work together and ensure that we communicate clearly, effectively and efficiently with one another as adults if we are to do the best for our children.
After tonight I would like to invite all of you to take part in a short online survey that helps us to understand what you think we are doing well and how we can engage better with more of you.
The link will be sent out via Messenger and put on the school website with a copy of this presentation.
The next part of tonight relates to our ongoing work in school to tackle bullying behaviour and promote respect.
Bullying is an issue that occurs not just in schools but in wider society and we know that it often involves an inability by one person to accept difference in another.
This year we have done a huge amount of work around anti- bullying including an intensive campaign during anti-bullying week involving a range of our partner agencies, curricular work such as the study of the text ‘Wonder’ in S1 English, followed up by a cinema trip to see the film and the work in S2 drama that I previously mentioned.
What we know is that the most effective way to tackle bullying is to involve everyone in the community and to create a culture where everyone the chance to speak out when they know that something is wrong.
We know that 99% of our children know that they should speak out when unkind things happen to others. We also know that peer pressure and fear stop them from doing so. If you came to my talk about teenagers, you will know that peer massive is very real for teenagers but that they CAN resist it if they are given the right messages by adults who they trust.
Recent research into stopping bullying talks about the power of the bystander and the film that you are going to see tonight gives a clear message about this.
I Am Me tells the story of Charlie, a young man with autism living in his community.
As this week is Wold Autism week, it is a particularly important film to be showing just now
It was developed by a community group , also called I Am Me. They are an winning community charity which works in partnership with Police Scotland to raise awareness of Disability Hate Crime (recognised as one of the most under report crimes in the UK).
The project aims to raise awareness with local young people and disability groups through the power of drama and film aimed at challenging attitudes and behaviours towards disabled people. Since the launch in September 2013, a live performance was delivered to over 10,000 people, including High schools, disability groups, staff groups, the police training college and the Scottish Parliament. A softer version, designed for primary school children was delivered to around 8,000 children in Renfrewshire.
The project also has an initiative called Keep Safe. Keep Safe works in partnership with Police Scotland and a network of local businesses to create ‘Keep Safe’ places for disabled, vulnerable, and elderly people when out and about in the community. People can access these premises to seek assistance and help if they feel lost, confused, scared, in danger, or have been the victim of a crime.
Children and parents here often talk about the fact they don’t want to appears as ‘grasses’ by giving information about others who have done wrong.
I urge you, the adults, to challenge this and work with us and the police to ensure that everyone in our community is happy and safe.
I hope you enjoy the film.