This week we have tried to improve two very important aspects of the school – our work with pupils and parents.
I want us to go well beyond just consulting pupils and informing parents – I want to empower both groups to make a meaningful contribution to school improvement and to play an active role in raising attainment for all.
In this blog I want to set out how we take this work from where it is now to a whole new level.
a) In classes I am asking staff to make the learning more ‘visible’ and to increase opportunities for pupils to give and receive feedback on the learning. There is now a lot of research which says the more pupils take ownership of their learning the better they learn. That is a strong focus for our staff this session and I hope pupils take the opportunities to own and take direction for their learning in classes.
b) Across the school we have moved the from a pupil council who took their issues to me and expected me to fix or reject them. We now have a Pupil Forum which every pupils is a part of – they can give their views to their class representative (soon we hope ideas can go into a google space for classes too). Class representatives meet once a term in house groups (the House of Representatives) to share common ideas. Each house captain then meet with the head prefects in the Pupil Senate to take forward the really big ideas. So far this would be similar to what happens in any school. What is different in our approach is that at every level pupils are empowered to take decisions – to adopt an idea, to implement an idea or to reject an idea. They can do this without asking me – they even have been allocated money to truly empower them. This work is beyond anything happening in the City at present and is closely linked to our work on promoting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – giving pupils a voice in things which affect them. On Wednesday I was asked to do a presentation to all the City Head Teachers to outline our approach and I am happy to attach a link to the slides I used for my presentation Harlaw Academy pathways to participation November 2017.
Harlaw parents are really good at attending parent meetings, at letting us know when things are not going great and when supporting the school. But a challenge the school and the Parent council have set ourselves is to take our work with parents to a different level. Google classrooms is one way in which we want to open the learning up to parents. We have also listened to you and will move from the 4 ‘skinny’ reports of recent years back to a fuller report to you. We are using group call more, have taken in a new booking system for parent’s nights and are beginning to use survey monkey to gather parent views on things. These are all significant pieces of work but as with our work with pupils we are keen to go even further because we feel parents are one of the keys to improving the school and helping raise the attainment of our children.
Working with the parent council we agreed to change the format of Parent Council meetings. The Parents asked if we could include in the meetings more detailed information about one specific aspect of the school – they suggested the example of Maths/Numeracy. So on Thursday evening we had our best attended Parent Council meeting ever – 45 parents, 2 Councillors, 4 staff and 3 pupils. The hour set aside for Maths/Numeracy flew past (indeed it over-ran a bit). The Maths staff were so good at taking parents through a range of on-line materials and at offering parents advice on how to support/encourage their children with maths. This was followed by a school report (delivered by our Head Prefect, Harry Kilner) with an open Q&A with David Innes, Head Teacher and Fiona Lawrence, Depute Head – parents were encouraged to ask anything about the school they wished and as a result of the discussion and other feedback we will continue to improve the school and our systems.
Sustaining a relentless focus on school improvement:
Both of these pieces of work are ground breaking and yet we are only a start. We are going to sustain a relentless focus on school improvement in partnership with our parents and pupils. We want to respond to the voices we hear regularly from but we also want to hear from more of the quieter voices or the voices which are silent at present. Empowering all of our pupils and engaging with all our parents has the potential to make a massive difference in terms of school ethos and pupil attainment.
(I have been unable to include reference to a great visit our S3 pupils had to the Airport this week or the visit of another group to the Town House as part of our business link with the City Council or the first match for my own S3 football team on Thursday – all of that will have to wait until next week).