For the last few terms one primary school in the Falkirk area has been working hard to achieve just that in difficult circumstances.
Finding itself located in a so-called “area of deprivation”, Langlees Primary School in David’s Loan would be forgiven for just accepting its lot in life and just going through the motions until the pupils leave for high school.
The school has done just the opposite however and, with a little support and funding from the Scottish Government, is starting to fight back against the curse of low expectations.
Gail McGlynn, head teacher, said: “Langlees is the only school in the Falkirk area which has been classed as an attainment challenge school. The government identified us as having a level of need to be included in the programme.”
The Scottish Attainment Challenge is about achieving equity in educational outcomes. This can be achieved by ensuring every child has the same opportunity to succeed, with a particular focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap.
The First Minister launched the Scottish Attainment Challenge in February 2015 to bring a greater sense of urgency and priority to this issue.
It aims to ensure all of Scotland’s children and young people reach their full potential.
Those are some lofty goals, but the staff, parents and pupils at Langlees Primary School actually have the drive and desire to make the attainment challenge work for them.
The school’s new outdoor learning space, which officially opened last month, is the most visible sign of the school’s changing approach, but there has also been some hard work going on behind the scenes as well.
Gail said: “The focus for us has been to raise the level of attainment in literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing through a variety of projects.In terms of literacy we have been working with a speech and language therapist who comes into the school twice a week – this has helped raise attainment in early years in literacy skills like listening and talking.
“In numeracy our teachers have all been trained to deliver Big Maths which allows them to create individual learning programmes for each child – it allows the children to set their own targets.
“We have also introduced a range of different creative initiatives in order to develop health and wellbeing, self confidence and self esteem.”
Some of these creative initiatives have the school working alongside musician Suzanne Bell to develop fun learning opportunities like the Glee Club and Jane Jackson from Falkirk Council, who helps develop outdoor learning.
Then there is Paul Gorman from Hidden Giants who works with primary five pupils on wordless books – basically books with no words in them and a lot of pictures to help promote discussion and let the children develop their own stories using their own imagination.
The children have been attending after school clubs which are geared towards the subjects they asked for, like arts and crafts, construction skills and gardening,
Youngsters are seizing all these learning opportunities with both hands and have even formed their own public relations group to promote all the good things happening at Langlees Primary School.
They could give The Falkirk Herald a run for its money with all the budding reporters, editors and photographers covering events like the recent official opening of the school’s new outdoor learning space.
The youngsters even interviewed school cleaner Eunice Wilson, who had the honour of opening the new facility.
Parents are also an important part of the attainment challenge and the school has been working with the Aberlour Trust family centre and Angela Boyce with groups of parents for special Tea, Talk and Toast sessions which give information and advice on parenting.
They help parents deal with issues such as providing discipline for their children, advice on bedtime routines and how to encourage their children to read while they are at home.
“It’s a kind of top tips for parenting,” said Gail.
Parent Partnership Scotland have also worked with the school to encourage a group of parents to set themselves a number of goals throughout term time.
The Langlees mums and dads have risen to the challenge and have set up a parent cafe which runs on a Wednesday between 9am and 10am.
They are now busy organising a big family outdoor event for May.
Gail said: “We very much value the parents of our children at the moment. They are wonderful partners for the school to have.”
The teachers have taken steps to improve their skills with learning programmes they established themselves to share ideas and research about teaching so they can do what they can to raise attainment even further.
Teachers are also adapting their approaches to teaching with a switch to active learning, outdoor education and using different contexts for learning, with the emphasis moving away from the usual “chalk and talk” classroom-based learning environment.
Gail said: “So we are developing the teachers, the parents and the pupils. It’s a real joint effort – parents, pupils and staff – everyone wants the same outcome and that is to improve the education experience for the children.”
The early signs are encouraging at Langlees Primary and head teacher Gail and the rest of the staff have high hopes each successive class of children will head for high school with the skills they require to really make a go of life.