Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Headteacher Update 19 - Tuesday 12th June 2018

June 18

Dear Parent/Carer

As we approach the end of term, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for your support through this session and update you on key developments related to the school.

Before I do so, I also want to extend my very best wishes to all our school leavers.   It has been a privilege to get to know them and see them develop into young adults . Our ambition as a school is to prepare our young people as best we can so they can have the confidence, resilience and skills to embrace the opportunities and challenges of life and experience success.  This is fundamental to our school vision and is something we work towards every day.

iPad Announcement
For a number of years Gracemount High School has provided 1:1 devices (iPads) to S3-6 pupils. This initiative has been very well supported by the school, however, there is a significant expense associated with this continued initiative.

This session there was a small but significant drop in our school roll which impacted on our school budget. As a result we are unable to provide our new S3 year group with iPads. At this stage it remains our intention to provide devices when they move into S4. We will continue to invest in our teachers’ development of the use of digital technology to support our approaches to learning and teaching.

I realise a number of our young people will be disappointed and I understand if there are concerns about how this may affect learning and teaching. I would encourage you, if affected, to contact me at the school to discuss this further if you wish to do so.

Improvement Planning
We are currently working on our improvement planning for next session and both our school improvement plan and standards and quality report will be published on the school website early next session. I have provided details of key areas that we will be looking at next session.

The headings used in this blog represent the five key school improvement priorities. These link into the four National Improvement Framework priorities as set of by the Scottish Government, as follows:-

1.     Improvement in attainment, particularly in literacy and numeracy
2.     Closing the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged children and young people
3.     Improvement in children and young people’s health and wellbeing
4.     Improvement in employability skills and sustained positive school leaver destinations for all young people

Learning and Teaching
As we progress into next session we will continue to focus on developing the skills of our teaching staff so we can deliver the very best quality learning and teaching in and beyond our classrooms. As mentioned in my last blog, there has been a clear focus over the last two years on developing co-operative learning within the school. Co-operative learning is where students work together in small groups and all pupils are assigned a task where they are expected to contribute towards achieving a common goal. There is clear international evidence that co-operative learning can have a big impact on positive outcomes for pupils when it is done well.

Further to this, we aim to look at the following aspects of learning and teaching next session:-
·      Highly effective differentiation – ensuring learning and teaching is adapted to meet the needs of individual pupils.
·    The social environment of our classroom – with a focus on attitudes/support/relationships/information and empowerment.
·       We will continue to enhance the skills of our teachers in using digital technologies.
·       Ensuring we make the teaching and learning of literacy and numeracy explicit across the school in year groups 1-3.

By January 2019 we will have re-established our Teaching and Learning policy and shared this with you.

Our school ethos continues to be a strength and our work in ensuring pupils feel safe, secure and happy in school will always be a priority. Our work on becoming the first Local Authority school in the City of Edinburgh to achieve the Gold Rights Respecting School Award has supported us in ensuring we create the best ethos we can in our school community.

In order to build on this we aim to do the following next session:-

1.    Refocus our efforts on celebrating success in and out of school and introduce our Ambition pledge awards for S1 pupils. 

2.    Introduce awards for behaviour, effort and attendance based on information from tracking reports for all pupils.

3.     Introduce profiling for pupils in S1-3.

4.    Continue to celebrate success in the classroom with our values postcards. 

5.   Further enhance pupil confidence and pride in school by creating our Pupil Leadership Team structure.

Our focus on Dress Code continues and we feel strongly that this supports a very positive ethos within the school. However, we will review our approach to our dress code next session as this is something our pupil cohort have asked for. We will not be moving away from a dress code but certain elements may change but only after consultation with pupils and parents.

During this month we will be appointing our prefect team including our Head Boy and Head Girl. This is always a very exciting time in the school year and I am sure this will be a very competitive process for those involved.

Pupil Support
We pride ourselves in this school on our inclusive approach. Our work on supporting our pupils will continue to be a key focus as the school moves forward. Our Relationships for Learning (Behaviour) policy is now well established and recent focus groups with pupils have suggested that our young people feel this is working very well to support all pupils.

Protecting the learning in the classroom (a phrase all our teachers use with pupils) will remain a priority so learning and teaching can flourish in our school.

This session we have worked extremely hard on ensuring our information on Additional Support Needs is up to date and that systems are in place to identify and support all young people who require any additional support. We will continue this work, however, we will refocus on the role of Support for Learning across the school.   As a result we have invested in staffing to support this area.

We are also introducing a new structure for our Depute Head Teachers who will assume the responsibility for a Year Group for the whole time they are at school. This means that a young person’s Year Head and Guidance Teacher will not change throughout the time they are in school. This will facilitate a new and much more focused approach to house team meetings to ensure that supports are well established for all our young people.

Support for pupils in their learning should also be developed at home. We recognise this and will continue to put family learning at the heart of our school improvement planning.  Mrs Julie Wilson (PE and Dance teacher) is our family learning engagement officer and will be in touch throughout next session to support and advise families on how they can support learning at home and get access to the information they need.

As mentioned last time, the Pupil Equity Funding is additional funding from the Scottish Government’s £750 million Attainment Scotland Fund, allocated directly to schools and targeted at closing the poverty related attainment gap. This funding is to be spent at the discretion of Head Teachers working in partnership with each other and their Local Authority.

At Gracemount we have focused on developing the following:-

1.     Literacy and Assistive Technology – Mrs Angela Verity was appointed to support the development of  literacy and has been working with several pupils in S3 and S4 to help them improve their literacy standards.

2.     Numeracy Development – we are developing a numeracy strategy together with Gracemount Primary and engaging parents in supporting their children to develop numeracy skills. 

3.     STEM (Science Technology and Engineering) – Mr Rory Wallis has been appointed as our STEM Development Officer and will lead the schools approach in developing opportunities and skills related to these subject areas. Our strategy is to ensure that all pupils receive a high quality STEM experience during their time at Gracemount High School and that they develop the STEM skills required to gain employment or move into further education.

4.     Learning to Learn Mentors – we have 10 staff who are mentoring five S4 pupils each. This has been ongoing since the start of the session and we will evaluate the impact of this approach at the end of this session to determine if we continue with our approach into next session. 

5.     Wider Achievement – Ms Joanna Greig is working on developing wider achievement opportunities across the school and our planning is well underway for next session. This includes the introduction of the Youth Philanthropy Initiative (YPI) into S5 PSE next session.

At the time of writing, I am finalising plans for next session, however, I can so far confirm the following:-

1.     Our Numeracy Development Officer is appointed and will start in August. Mr Koturbasz, already a Maths teacher in Gracemount High School, will take up this role. 

2.     Our STEM strategy is being developed by Mr Wallis.

3.     Learning to learn mentors are likely to continue but on a slightly smaller scale for next session.

4.     Our wider achievement approach is well underway and the Youth Philanthropy Initiative will be delivered in S5 PSE next session as well as a wellbeing award in S5/6 PE. 

5.     Our City and Guilds course in Bike Maintenance for S4 pupils will continue to run next session.

6.     We are in the process of appointing a Senior Development Officer who will join the schools Senior Leadership Team. Their focus will be on developing partnerships and supporting our most at risk/disadvantaged young people. 

7.     Mrs Hurd will further develop her role as Pupil Support Officer across the school.

Our new timetable has begun and almost all our young people are coursed into their classes. This may change particularly because of SQA results for pupils in S5/6. Dates for when pupils can be recoursed are below.

As per advice from the last blog, please see below:-

Progression to the next level is a very important step to get right as this avoids young people dropping out or being withdrawn from subjects later in the year. As the national qualifications embed, we are seeing more and more evidence of the demands in progressing from National 5 to Higher. We are very clear that pupils who achieve a National 5 A-B grade should progress to Higher. Pupils who achieve a National 5 C grade can progress but with the understanding that a lot of hard work will be required to close the knowledge gap that is required for success at Higher. Attendance at our GASS sessions would be highly recommended.

Where a pupil achieves a National 5 D award we will be suggesting that they do not progress to Higher. They may sit Higher units in isolation with a view to completing the Higher over two years.

All these matters will be discussed with the young people and parents at the time.

Please refer to the school website for details on SQA post results service and key dates. http://www.gracemounthighschool.co.uk/SQA_Update/index.html

Our “schools of programme” in S1 is ready to launch for August and we are particularly excited about this initiative, which is aimed at developing skills and knowledge in the S1 curriculum.

We believe that no matter how good we are, we can always improve and to help us do this we regularly take part in self-evaluation activities.

As I previously mentioned we have completed a full self-evaluation of our teaching and learning this session. Every faculty and every teacher has been observed teaching over the course of the last year and all faculties have been given feedback on areas of strength and development. This approach will take up towards launching our new Teaching and Learning policy next session.

A key part of self-evaluation is also to ask pupils what they think.  I do this through my Daily Dozen approach and details of this can be found on the front page of the school website. You will see from the pupil responses the areas of strengths of the school and the areas they feel we can improve. Overall, I am very pleased with the responses and the progress the school has made.

I am currently involved in visiting S1 and S2 PSE classes to look at “New Horizons” – what they want the school to be like in 4 years’ time. This has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I am learning a lot about what the pupils want and think. Once I have completed the exercise more details will follow.

We have recently discussed our New Horizons with all our staff to help shape our improvement priorities for next session and have asked parents who attended the Parent Council meeting on 4 June to complete a form. Should you also wish to do so, please do get in touch with me.

Other Information:-

Measles – there are reports of significant outbreaks across Europe and schools have been contacted. Consequently, NHS Lothian will be writing to all parents who have not had their children immunised.

This time of year often sees significant changes in staffing. The following staff will be leaving us at the end of this term or before:-

1.     Mr Hutchison, DHT has been successfully appointed as DHT at Royal High School and will take up post after the summer break. 

2.     Ms Kilkiewicz has been successfully appointed as teacher of Maths at Larbert High School and left us on 3 June.

3.     Mrs Hannah McIntyre, School Office has taken up a promoted post in another Local Authority and has left us on 3 June.

4.     Mr Graeme Franz, temporary teacher of History will be leaving us at the end of term.

5.     Mrs Morag Sim (Administration Officer) is retiring at the summer break. 

6.     Ms Angela Verity, Pupil Equity in Literacy, will be leaving at the end of term to take up a career out of teaching.

All staff leave with our very best wishes and our sincere gratitude for the work they have done in the school.

Please see key updates below regarding appointments:-

1.     Mr Yusaf, our current probationer in Maths, has been successful in gaining a full-time permanent position in our Maths faculty.

2.     Mrs Ustun, who was previously with us in Maths and left to go on maternity leave, was successfully appointed as a Maths Teacher on a full-time permanent basis. Mrs Ustun will take up her post in August.

3.     We have two probationer teachers joining us next session in the following subject areas:-
a.     History – Ms Catriona Murray
b.     Home Economics – to be confirmed

4.     Ms Vidotto has been appointed in a 1-year temporary position in our Support for Learning Department and will take up her post in August. 

5.     Mrs Laura Goodall took up post as Admin Officer on 11 June.

6.     We are currently recruiting for the following areas:-
a.     Clerical vacancy in the School Office
b.     Temporary teacher of CDT
c.      Support for Learning and Spanish
d.     Depute Head Teacher

Important Dates
·       4 June – new timetable started
·       8 June – Senior Prom
·       19 – 21 June – Primary 7 transition visit
·       28 June – School Awards Ceremony – (evening)
·       29 June – end of term
·       7 August – SQA results day (good luck to all our candidates)
·       8 August – recoursing day (appointment only) – please contact the School Office
·       15 August – start of new term.
·       28 September – Gracemount High School and Gracemount Primary School fund raising event. Evening event at Gilmerton Miners Club. Please save the date if you can.

If I do not see you before the end of the school term, I wish you all a very enjoyable and safe summer break.

Kind Regards

Ross Hunter
Head Teacher