9.00 – 1030am Chief Officers Group for Children's Services – this is a multi-agency group of lead officers in education, health and social work. A lot of the meeting was taken up with information giving sessions but I raised a couple of points in the course of the morning. Firstly, a paper was tabled about developing a parental support strategy. There seem to be lots of audits, reviews and strategy meetings but I wasn't able to see a clear rationale underpinning the purpose of parental support. I suppose it's because this is an issue I'm really struggling with myself at the moment – but what do we seek to acheive when we support parents. I know this seems an obvious question – and it should have an obvious answer – but all too often we do things because they seem like a good idea and forget – or at least fail to clarify – the underlying purpose. I recognise that some children have additional support needs which place demands upon parents to the extent that they require support from networks and professionals throughout their childs development and beyond. I also recognise that some parents will require support due to exceptional circumstances, or short-term support in reponse to an unforseen event. However, there are also some parents do not have the skills, family support systems or wherewithall to give their children enough support to make the progress one might normally expect in terms of social, emotional, academic or behavioural development. Now I know this seems pretty stark when you commit this to paper – or virtual paper as it is in this case. However, there are some parents who need guidance, support, engagement and regular monitoring if we are to ensure that their children break free from a cycle of deprivation, academic failure and social exclusion. I'm minded here to refer to Alan Ross's concept of “social police” and obviously in cases of child protection I suppose that this would be the case. But there are many more cases where parents would benefit from early proactive intervention and support to enable their child to have equivalent life chances to other children of the same age in different circumstances. Reading over this piece I'm uncomfortable – why? Well – I don't hear many people talk like this -yet it seems to me that this is the unspoken assumptions which govern our actions yet due to some implicit form of “political correctness” we all nod but never express the point. I might take this off the site in the next few days when I read in the cold light of day.
Lunch meeting with Ian Metcalf – deputy editor, East Lothian Courier. I'd met Ian at last week's Education Committee and had invited him for lunch to explore ways in which we could work together. Ian has an interesting background and has worked on most of Scotland's main newspapers as a crime reporter. I enjoyed listening to him and learned something about the idea of “off the record briefings”. Then we got to talking about this weeks copy of the paper, which I hadn't yet read. Ian showed me the leader which suggested that headteachers often “sweep bullying under the carpet”. I took exception to that phrase as it runs completely counter to my experience of schools. I stressed to Ian that our starting point in schools, even more importantly than teaching and learning, is that children must feel safe and secure. Nothing takes precedence over this I know how important this is for all our headteachers and staff in schools.
I showed Ian our draft anti-bullying policy and went over a few parts. To be fair Ian pushed hard on what schools actually do to stop bullying not what a policy might be. I made it clear that the starting point is an ethos in the school which reinforces that bullying will not be tolerated under any circumstances. Children have to be encouraged to speak up immediately they feel bullied and that the school has to take action immediately. One the problem facing schools is when children – for whatever reason – don't inform anyone. The challenge for us is to create an environment where children are confident that positive action will be taken to stop the bullying. I used a number of examples from my own experience to highlight what schools can do to stop bullying and that this can be exceptionally effective. I also made it clear that schools don't draw a line at the school gates when dealing with bullying and that I had excluded pupils for acts of bullying which had taken place outside schools and outwith the school day. All schools – everywhere – have bullying problems – if one child is being bullied then that is a problem – the important point to make here is that schools never lose sight of the dangers of bullying and are constantly vigilant and aware.
The new policy will be going out to schools, student councils and parents group with a view to consolidating and confriming the good practice that already happens in our schools.
LNCT meeting at 2.00pm. Very positive meeting – I'm looking forwards to working with our union colleagues. I'm a great believer in the importance of employee representation and I hope to build up a similar relationship as the one I enjoyed at Dunbar – which relied upon openess, trust and honesty.
Meeting finished early so I popped over to Kings Meadow Primary for 45 minutes. Quick tour of the school with Donald McGillivary – very impressive place!
4.30pm Gordon Brown's leaving do. Followed by a meeting with a headteacher until 6.20pm A very varied but satisfying day – I'm having a day off tomorrow and am looking forward to the weekend.