A sense of ceremony

I attended a beautiful Mass at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Primary School this morning. The event was held to celebrate the closure of the school building before it is demolished to make way for the new school which will be built over the next 15 months.

I’m neither Catholic nor religious but I was very taken by the ceremony and sense of community which was engendered this morning.

It made me think that we don’t pay enough attention to ceremony in our modern lives – I certainly haven’t read anything about the role of ceremony in any recent management books I’ve come across. Nor is there a performance indicator which measures the effective use of ceremony. Nevertheless, I think there is something about us as a species which likes the comfort and rhythm of a well conducted ceremonial occasion. It certainly acts to bind people together in an act of common purpose – a feature of life which is all too conspicuous by its absence.

A teacher’s primary role?

I was interested in the recent headline from the Scotland on Sunday: 


TEACHERS have been told that their “primary responsibility above all others” is the wellbeing of children, rather than teaching.The comments by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) have been met with disbelief and anger by parents’ groups and teachers, with one union leader saying they defied description.

In the convention’s submission to the McCormac Review into teaching pay and conditions, the authors wrote: “Teachers are part of the children’s services workforce. Their terms and conditions need to stress that a teacher’s primary responsibility above all others is the wellbeing of children within their care, and they have a duty to work in a collegiate way.”

Jim Docherty, depute general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA), branded the remarks “stupid”.

He told Scotland on Sunday: “Cosla is so far off the beam it does defy description. The role of a teacher is to teach.

I won’t get drawn into the rights and wrongs of the  CoSLA submission to the McCormac Review into teachers’ pay and conditions and you could argue that its line of argument could have been more nuanced.

However, as a teacher (I still describe myself as that when anyone asks me what I do) I’ve always believed that the job entails so much more than just “teaching”.  I’ve seen too many teachers throughout my career who were masters of  their subject, had a grasp of pedagogy but couldn’t “teach” because the young people in their care knew that their teacher didn’t have an interest in them as human beings.  
For me the care and welfare of the child must always be the priority.  If a child comes to school unfed, sleep deprived and frightened due to domestic violence, unkempt because their parents are addicted to alcohol or drugs – then how can you expect them to learn?  The best teachers – and we have so, so many of them in East Lothian do care about the whole child.  They do work with colleagues in other services, they are sensitive about child protection issues, and above all they are committed to the well being of all of the children in their care.  None of that means that they don’t care deeply about the teaching and learning process.
I’ve always subscribed to the principle of  “in loco parentis” – when I teach I am in place of the parent.  As a parent my prime concern is – always – the well being of my child.  I expected nothing less from the teachers who taught my children – as  its only from that foundation that any productive learning can take place.  I expect nothing less from the teachers who work in East Lothian schools.

Education and Children’s Services – “stretching” and “reaching”

I had cause to ponder the other day whether or not education is enhanced by a direct link with children’s social work (children’s services) as part of an integrated department – and vice-versa.

In East Lothian the two services were brought together nearly eight years ago. It was formed by hiving off those members of staff who worked in children’s social work from those who worked with adult social care. The simple – and continuing logic – was that there was much to be gained by enabling all those who worked to meet the needs of children to be linked together into a “seamless” service. Of course the theory in such cases is always easier than the practice but over the years the benefit to children has been recognised as a positive – most recently in the inspection of services to protect children in East Lothian.

Nevertheless, it’s important to continually review whether such logic stands up to scrutiny in changing circumstances. And so it was on Thursday that I listened to Angela Constance speak to Scottish Directors of Education. I was encouraged by what she had to say about the aspirations of the government to focus upon Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) as a cornerstone for improving the outcomes (achievement and attainment) for children and young people being educated in Scotland. I suppose this is reflected in the Government’s decision to place Children’s Services under the portfolio of the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning – whereas the responsibility for older people lies with the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-Being and Cities.

Angela Constance’s input was preceded by Sir Peter Housden, the head the civil service in Scotland, who made a powerful case for adopting an outcome focused approach to public service. In relation to education in Scotland he highlighted the huge discrepancy between highest performing 20% of young people and the lowest performing 20% – which is the amongst the highest in the developed world. For me the only way we are going to address this scandalous statistic is to see education within the wider context which is Getting it Right for Every Child.

Teachers and schools cannot – and will not – be able to dent these figures alone. Simply thinking that Curriculum for Excellence – even if taught by fantastic teachers – is going to be enough to help Scotland compare favourably with other countries is doomed to failure.

That’s why we are working in East Lothian to create a service which is genuinely built around the needs of child and not around the needs of the service. Such an approach requires professionals to think very differently from how they have in the past where the first thought was often to think of the professional boundaries – which would prevent them from working in a certain way – as opposed to adopting a positive perspective on how to solve problems.

What we are attempting to build in East Lothian is a way of working which meets the needs of people and their families from pre-birth to 18 (and beyond) which has “stretch” and “reach”. By “stretch” I mean a journey for every child that is not characterised by “clunky” transitions from one discrete organisation/agency to another, which only serve to hold them back, but a service, which can stretch forwards, and back in anticipating the needs of young people and understanding the impact of their developmental history. By “reach” I mean a way of working which can reach beyond the professional location and traditional parameters of practice, e.g. a school which can reach out to the family, or a social work team who can reach into a school.

By seeing ante-natal care, early years, parenting, health and well-being, additional support for learning, severe and complex needs, social and emotional behavioural difficulties, attainment, the curriculum,  corporate parenting adoption and fostering, alcohol and drug misuse, positive destinations, etc, as inter-connected issues which impact upon children –  as opposed to discrete elements which need to be managed in isolation from one another – we have a much greater chance of really making a difference.