Case Study 21

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Spittal Primary School, Pupil Participation: The Classroom

This is the first of a new series of Case Studies during 2000-2001 which focus on pupils' participation and involvement in their own learning, in the systems and running of their schools and in the wider community. It features Spittal Primary School which has worked for many years to develop a positive ethos, both as an end in itself for the school community of pupils, staff, parents and school community neighbours and as a major contribution to improved performance across the curriculum.

This Case Study was published by the Scottish Schools Ethos Network.

Spittal Primary School
Lochlea Road
South Lanarkshire
Glasgow G73 4QJ
Contact: Carol Howarth, Headteacher, 0141 634 5861


Our school is set in vast grassy grounds, an advantage for our pupils to play in freely but also hard to maintain as immaculately as we would like. It is within the small housing estate of Spittal with which we enjoy positive relationships, and its catchment areas extend to two other estates Blairbeth and parts of Fernhill.

However, 35 per cent of our roll of 230 school pupils attend Spittal as a result of placing requests, mainly from Castlemilk, a large housing estate across the main road from Spittal. There are a further 100 children in the Nursery Classes which offer extended hours to parents from eight a.m. to five p.m. We have a happy, united and stable staff and the school is small enough that all the pupils and parents know all the teachers.

Some of the aspects of the school which contribute to its warm and welcoming atmosphere come from the determined work of all the staff teachers and non-teachers along with parent and other community volunteers to ensure that all our pupils feel valued. Pupils also realise from the beginning that we have high expectations of them. We share these aspirations with their parents as far as possible and maintain respectful relationships with families in all circumstances. Children are less likely to participate happily in school if school does not value where they come from.

Pupils may come from their classes on their own to change books in the library. A parent helper will record the loan and advise on choice only if asked.
We work hard to develop all our pupils' capacity for involvement in the running of their own school through the Pupil Council, which takes real responsibilities and decisions, and through active participation in other parts of the school's 'systems'. We recognised from the outset that developing a positive ethos and pupil participation are inextricably intertwined. They rest on many of the same foundations and the key school starting place for them is the classroom which is, after all, where pupils spend most of their school week.

If we are to achieve our aims, the most important foundations are:

  • Being responsible for self
  • Being aware of other people, respectful of them and sensitive and supportive of their needs
  • Carrying out duties and making choices
  • Being competent and confident communicators.

Our ways of teaching and learning in and outside the classroom regardless of the curriculum area, must help develop these foundations in our pupils. (Apart from the rooms for each class we also have a library and soft furnishings/multi-sensory area, an assembly hall/gym and a range of work stations and reference areas in the corridors and on the landings.)

A work station in the corridor where pupils carry out tasks independently.
Some of the ways we try to build the foundations follow.

Being responsible for self

We are fortunate that most of our pupils have already attended nursery school and will therefore have a head start in being responsible for themselves.

We make it plain from Primary 1 that pupils are responsible for keeping 'their bit' of the classroom tidy and for sharing responsibility for common areas. With all the pressure to get on with the formal curriculum it would be all too easy for our teachers and assistants to help the children or even do it themselves, but they resist this temptation because they know it pays later dividends. The same is true in relation to getting dressed and undressed for gym or home.

This progresses to being prepared for different activities at different times or on different days. The scaffolding of reminders is gradually withdrawn and we encourage parents to join us in this, even though some families find it hard.

Inevitably this results in lapses when gym kit or swimsuit may be forgotten and a child misses out on an activity. We sympathise but we help the child make the link between being responsible for self and being able to participate.

As children go up the school they become more self-managing and are trusted to move around the school on their own carrying messages or working independently at some of our out-of-class work stations (see photos opposite). Primary 6 and 7 children will have periods of independent study, carefully planned in advance by them and linked to on-going curricular work and cleared by their teacher. They will also select the days on which they will attend the after-school study groups and plan for themselves what work will be done there.

Nowhere is the development of responsibility for self more evident than in our positive discipline policy and procedures. Everything is geared towards the pupils being helped towards understanding what is the right way to be and the right thing to do. This sounds so simple but it is so hard for some pupils to achieve and hard for staff, too, to support them and sustain a positive and respectful approach.

Like so many schools now, we have a range of reward systems certificates, treats, membership of special clubs, mention at weekly assemblies that recognise positive behaviour and social development, effort and achievement in all areas of the curriculum and school life (see drawing above). But we also need to help pupils to internalise the values that we are promoting so that they want to do better because it feels right to them. A counselling approach that hands the responsibility for behaviour back to pupils themselves eventually does result in better behaviour, raised self-esteem and feeling more fully part of the school community. Perhaps one of the markers of our success in this is that, among the placement requests on our roll is a significant number for whom the requests pre-empted probable exclusion from other schools. We have also included two pupils who have been in special behaviour support units after several exclusions. Spittal has not excluded any pupils for two years.

Yes, there's all that, but it's class organisation too. They have to be able to work on their own initiative, and to help others and to be helped. That takes good planning so that they have the resources they need, and different ways of being grouped or not grouped, depending what they are working on. It's not all feely-touchy! And it takes time for many kids to be confident and self-managing and developing their skills helps them to become more responsible too. I think we're good at sustaining things here.' '

Respect, two ways, that's what draws them in. Sometimes, though, I do have to remind myself, that's someone's child there, how would I like mine to be treated?

(Staff comments)
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