THe Berwickshire High School held their upper school award ceremony for 2011 recently, where the achievements of pupils in S4-6 were celebrated.
Rector Rob Kelly welcomed guests to the ceremony.
Looking back at the 2010-11 session, Mr Kelly spoke of the changes in staffing. The school has said fairwell to John Mabon, Principal Teacher of Expressive Arts, Barry Howard, PT Support for Learning, and depute head teacher Alastair Christie, all of whom had retired.
Mr Kelly also welcomed new staff to the school; Rachel Robson in PE and Alison Steel in English under the national probationary scheme, and parted company with John Troup in technical and Gareth Roberts in PE, who had joined under the probationary scheme 12 months previously.
He also welcomed Helen Cuthers who was joining the Design and Technology department on a shared basis with Kelso High School, and new depute Claire Paterson, who was joining from Firhill High School in Edinburgh. Mr Kelly said she brought new ideas and a fresh perspective, as well as “a timely reminder that individual schools must never assume that they already have all the answers”.
In addition to staff comings and goings, Mr Kelly said the school had witnessed major changes to the curriculum. Under a Curriculum for Excellence and in common with other schools, they had introduced new programmes of learning to all of the first year courses last session, and Mr Kelly said that feedback had been very positive.
The Curriculum for Excellence is currently being implemented across both S1 and S2, with pupils in this school having been able to exercise a degree of choice at the end of First Year. Mr Kelly said he felt this element of choice would increase motivation and, hopefully, avoid the S2 ‘momentum dip’.
Further evidence of change could also be seen in a substantial shift in the school population. With a dip in the birth-rate, the school had seen a reduction in numbers in First and Second years, but that had been compensated for by a surge in the number of pupils seeking to remain at school beyond Fourth Year. Mr Kelly said that this had put considerable pressure on the range of courses the school offers to young people in this age group, but said: “Nevertheless, with a bit of imagination and initiative we have succeeded in providing a viable curriculum for all of our pupils.”
Towards the end of the last session the structure of the school week changed, replacing 30 periods with a 33 period arrangement. This had had the obvious advantage of generating additional learning time, but had led to school days and lunch hours of different lengths and bus timings had also been problematic.
Last session, pupil evaluation activities were implemented at every level from individual classes to whole year groups and stages. A major survey of all pupils in S1-3 last December focused on learning and teaching and Mr Kelly said that “a very positive picture” had emerged of pupils being challenged but supported by teachers, of being involved in a dialogue not a monologue, of being encouraged to share responsibility for their own learning.
He said: “We have also been consulting with parents in a very focused way by using the standard HMI questionnaire at every Parents’ Night last session. Once again a very positive picture emerged.”
Mr Kelly said there were other waysof measuring a school’s effectiveness, principally the annual SQA Exam Diet which provides statistical evidence to measure progress in attainment. As part of that process, schools are assessed against a range of key measures relating to pupils in S4-6, and Mr Kelly was happy to report that in every one of these measures, the BHS is either above or well above the national average for Scotland as a whole.
He added: “Since the HM Inspection of the school in November 2009, which highlighted attainment as an issue to be addressed, we have now had two national exam diets. Both of these have provided solid evidence of significant progress and all of those involved should be congratulated. Nevertheless, no-one is going to become complacent as a result of this .”
Mr Kelly said that once again the school session seemed to have been dominated by change. He acknowledged that too much change was, potentially, damaging to any organisation and in the case of schools could lead to a feeling that education had been replaced by experimentation, with the pupils cast in the role of guinea pigs. But he insisted: “The key to avoiding this potential calamity is both to anticipate and to manage change and I firmly believe that as a school we have been largely successful in this respect.”
Mr Kelly concluded: “So, session 2010-11 saw substantial change and let us be under no illusions – this level and pace of change is set to continue over the next few years with the further roll-out of Curriculum for Excellence and the requisite recalibration of the national exam system.
“This is no disrespect to colleagues who have left us but I firmly believe that the cohort of staff at present in this school is the best we have ever had.
“I fully expect that many of the pupils here this evening will go on to distinguish themselves in all walks of life, as generations before have done.
“So, to conclude my address, the BHS continues to go from strength to strength, continues to provide high quality education for all of our children, continues to enjoy the respect, affection and support of our community - and long may it continue.”