Friday, 19 June 2015

Head Teacher Update – June 2015

To all Parents and Carers,

Head Teacher Update – June 2015

Vision, Values and Aims - Vision 2020

Since I took up post in November 2014 one of my main aims has been to establish:

  • 1A school vision statement.
  • 2A set of core values for the school.
  • 3A clear set our core priorities.

On Monday 5 January all school staff, teaching and non-teaching, met to consider these points and work has continued since then. Parents/carers, pupils and partners of the school have all been consulted and on the 23 April 2015 over 800 votes were cast to decide our preferred vision statement and our values.

I am delighted to say that these are now in place and will formally be launched within the school community over the coming months.

Vision Statement 

“At Gracemount High School EVERYONE is committed to working together to achieve excellence.  We embrace our young people as the heart of our community and through our culture of care, hard work and high expectations for learning, ALL our young people will have the confidence, resilience and skills to embrace the opportunities and challenges of life and experience success”. 


Aspiration – We strive to be the best we can be in all that we do. We understand that both hard work and effort are key to our success.

Mutual respect – We are polite, courteous and caring. We treat all people with dignity and respect. 

Being valued – We care about ourselves and each other. We understand that everyone matters. 

Instilling resilience – We persevere when faced with challenge. We know that when we make mistakes we are encouraged to learn from them. 

Tolerance and fairness – We promote equality, celebrate diversity and value our differences. We ensure that everyone is treated equally.  

Individual responsibility – We take responsibility for our thoughts, words and actions. We are accountable for the choices we make.

Optimism – We maintain a positive attitude to learning and life. We see challenges as opportunities and we are confident about the future.

No barriers to successful learning – We support each other and ask for help when we need it. We take responsibility for our learning in order to achieve success.

Staffing Update – accurate at the time of writing but subject to change

As is usual at the end of an academic session, there are a number of staffing changes. Below is a summary of expected changes.

Mrs Kelly (Maths) and Ms Taylor (Business) will be both be starting maternity leave at the end of term. It is clearly a very exciting time for them and their families and we wish them well as they get ready to welcome new additions into their family.

Mrs Clark, who has been working on a part-time basis in Support for Learning is also expecting a baby over the summer and we wish her and her family all the very best. As a result Mr Maclaughland (Social Subjects) will join our support team on a part-time basis until October. 

Mr Stobie (Maths) continues his career break for another year. I am therefore delighted to say that Mr Rafferty, who is currently a probationer teacher at Gracemount, will be staying on for another year.   We have yet to appoint maternity cover for Mrs Kelly.

Miss Taylor in Business Education will be leaving for a year on maternity leave and her replacement will hopefully be appointed next week. 

Mr Patterson, Curriculum Leader for English, is retiring at the end of this session. Mr Patterson has been at Gracemount High School for over 30 years and will be missed by all of us. It will undoubtedly be an emotional farewell. Mr Patterson’s post is currently being advertised and we plan to have appointed a candidate in time for the start of the August term.

Mrs France (Physics), another long standing member of staff is also retiring. We wish Mrs France all the very best for this new phase in her life.  As a result Mr Cunningham has joined us from Boroughmuir HS and took up post on Monday 8 June.

Mr Goodfellow (Social Subjects) has been on secondment to Portobello for the past year. I am delighted to say that he has secured a permanent promotion at Portobello and regrettably will not be returning in the new session.   We are delighted that Ms McMillan will be able to continue in post for another year as she has made such a positive contribution to the school in her short time in post.

Ms Dickie, Support for Learning Leader, has been on a career break and during that time has successfully secured a post in Outreach Teaching Services. We wish her all the very best in her new job. As a result Ms Kennedy will continue in post until a full time permanent replacement is appointed.

Ms McKenzie (Art) will be finishing her probation year at the end of term. We wish her well in securing a full time post over the coming months. Ms Finch will be joining us as a probationer teacher in the Art Department in August.

Mr McKenzie (Biology) will be temporarily leaving us in August to take up a two year contract in a school in Egypt. This is clearly a very exciting opportunity for Mr McKenzie although he will be very much missed at Gracemount. I am however very pleased to say that Ms Thomson, who has been covering Mr Knight’s secondment, has been appointed into Mr McKenzie’s post. Mr Knight (Biology) will re-join us in August after a brief spell at Portobello.

Amongst our non-teaching staff, Mrs Jones and Ms Henderson will both be leaving the PSA team. We wish them well in the future. Ms Kouppa is to join us very soon and we hope to make another appointment in the near future. We are also appointing a new member of the PSA team who will be working as a behaviour support officer in the school. This is a specific role designed to support pupils and staff and an appointment is imminent. I look forward to announcing the successful candidate shortly.

Mr Macdonald (English) continues to be absent for health reasons. We hope he will return very soon but in the meantime contingency arrangements have been put in place for August should he be unable to return after the summer. If you have any concerns, please contact your son’s/daughters Pupil Support Leader in the first instance. 

A Whole School Focus on Behaviour

Gracemount High school is a school where the significant majority of pupils are well behaved, respectful and keen to learn. All staff feel it is vital to ensure that these pupils’ efforts are recognised and that positive behaviour is valued and promoted throughout our community. Our positive ethos group has been working very hard to evaluate our current behaviour system and look at ways in which we can recognise and reward positive behaviour as well as deal with behaviour concerns in a more restorative and solution focused manner. Throughout the process we have been engaging with staff, parents/carers and pupils to gather their thoughts and suggestions on the way forward. Work on this is ongoing but I am delighted to say we are almost there and a new behaviour policy will be launched in August 2015. Details of this will be communicated to all families in August and the website will also updated with the detail.

Dress Code

Gracemount High School continues to pride itself on having exemplary high standards and part of this relates to our dress code. We have a very clear dress code and this has not changed for a considerable length of time. Our Parent Council continue to support our stance on this and feel very strongly that this should be actively promoted which we continue to do.

Recently a number of young people have not been adhering to the dress code, particularly in regard to the footwear which they choose to wear to school. We have a clear system in school to deal with this and if a pupil reaches 5 occasions where they have not adhered to the dress code, their Depute Head Teacher will contact home to seek support. Whilst we understand that issues may arise which prevent a student from adhering to the dress code, a note from home to make the school aware is always appreciated.

Please note that ripped or torn black jeans are not accepted as part of our dress code and we seek your support with this issue.

Attendance and Punctuality

In developing skills for life, work and learning there is a renewed focus on attending school and being punctual. We expect all pupils to have a minimum of 95% attendance unless there are very specific reasons to prevent this. If there are genuine reasons for this, the school will work very closely with you to support your family.

We also believe that it is not acceptable to be late and poor punctuality in school can become a habit and follow a young person into their working lives. We wish to make it clear that school starts at 8.30. There is a warning bell at 8.27 and students should be in the building by 8.30am. In August we will be taking a firm line on both attendance and punctuality and we are seeking your support to ensure that all our students understand the importance of being on time and arrive at school punctually. 
SQA Exams

Senior students have recently completed their National Qualification exams and we all anxiously await the results. The SQA process brings together a culmination of one year’s hard work and we know that where pupils work hard and try their best, good examination results are achieved. We wish all our students the very best and will be on hand to support all students once the results are published.

Mr Hutchison, Depute Head Teacher for the Senior School, will be in contact regarding dates when pupils and parents/carers can meet with him to discuss option choices in light of examination results.

As you will be aware, this year’s SQA examination results will be issued on Tuesday 4 August. These results will arrive by first class post or by text or e-mail if the student has registered for this service through “My SQA”.
There is no longer an appeals process. In its place, SQA has introduced two new services. 
The Exceptional Circumstances Consideration Service has been operating throughout the examination period.  Students who were unable to sit an exam, for very good reason, such as a family bereavement or serious illness, or whose performance may have been badly affected by similar circumstances, will have been put forward for Exceptional Circumstances Consideration.  In such cases, the school will have forwarded alternative evidence - a sample of the students’ work - to support their request for a qualification to be awarded.  The award granted, however, may not be the same as that estimated by the school.

The Post-Results Service will replace the former Appeals Process.   Where a candidate’s grade is significantly different from that expected, based on the evidence the school holds about the candidate’s performance throughout the course, a school may request a clerical check and/or an SQA marking review. The candidate must, however, give permission for this in writing.

A clerical check is a check that all questions have been marked and all marks totalled correctly. 

A marking review is where an SQA senior examiner will review the marks awarded to each question to ensure that the original marking was in line with national standards: the work will not be re-marked. The decision to ask for a marking review rests solely with the school, and no alternative evidence will be sent to the SQA.  The only evidence checked is the candidate’s 2015 examination script.
As a result of a clerical check and/or marking review, the candidate’s grade may stay the same or be amended up or down.  This process is significantly different in that the only evidence checked is the candidate’s 2015 examination script.  The school will not be able to submit to the SQA alternative evidence like course work or Prelim examination evidence to support their request for a review. Decisions about the grade awarded will be made solely on the candidate’s performance in the SQA examination.

The SQA has recognised that this new Service is a marked departure from previous practice and so have put in place extra checks in respect of the quality of each marker’s assessment and the accuracy of total marks awarded.  This has been done to ensure that final results are as accurate as possible.

Meaningful May

A number of pupils participated in a range of activities set up by Gracemount High School and Liberton High School. One particular success was raising a grand total of £121 for the Jamie Skinner Foundation on the Sponsored Walk. Well done to all involved.

Education Scotland - Learning through Technology Award

Gracemount continues to develop its reputation as a leading school in Scotland where it comes to learning through technology. In May we were delighted to issue all our S2 pupils with their own iPad as we progress with our 1:1 policy. Part of this is continue to provide our teachers with the very best training and professional development so that the learning and teaching that takes place in the classroom is second to none. As a result of our efforts we were recognised by Education Scotland and short listed for a Learning Through technologies Award. Unfortunately we did not win the award, however the school did receive £200 pounds which will be reinvested in continuing to develop technology across the curriculum.

Appointment of Head Boy/Girl

After a very competitive application process which included a written application form, a presentation and interview I am delighted to say that the following students have now been appointed:

Head Boy – Paul Reilly
Head Girl – Kirsty Farmer

Depute Head Boy – Mohammed Tariq
Depute Head Girl – Katy Hastie

All the candidates interviewed to a very high standard and the decision to appoint was very difficult for the interview panel.  Congratulations to our 4 successful candidates.
What lies ahead?

Our new timetable started on Monday 1 June and all students moved into the next stage of their secondary education. Should you have any queries regarding course choice, please contact your son’s/daughters Support for Pupil Leader in the first instance.

Our Sports Award evening took place on Thursday 11 June and information can be found on our website.

Our Annual Primary 7 3 day visit takes place on Tuesday 16 to Thursday 18 June. We are very much looking forward to welcoming our new P7 intake and Mrs Sinclair is putting together the final touches to ensure a very positive experience for all P7 pupils. If you have any last minute questions, please contact Mrs Sinclair in the first instance.

Our Annual Celebration Evening will take place on Wednesday 24 June at 7pm. The school will finish at 3pm that day to enable staff involved to prepare for the event.

You should also note that the school closes at 12 noon on Friday 26 June. There will be a dress down day and the Charities Committee will announce the charity which will benefit from the money raised. All students wishing to dress down should bring £1 to school that day.

The new session begins on Monday 17 August.

Final thoughts

I have thoroughly enjoyed the time I have spent at Gracemount High School since taking up post in November 2014. It is my view that Gracemount High School is a very good school and I was delighted when the local authority team visited the school in January and confirmed in their follow through report that we “continue to provide a very good standard of education”. This is a reflection of the quality of both teaching and non-teaching staff at the school who give their all every day. I am very fortunate to lead such a talented group of professionals.

There are a number of challenges ahead as we work together to continue to ensure we deliver the highest standard of education possible. Without question the most enjoyable part of my job has been getting to know the young people and listen to their views of the school. They have strong opinions and most feel very proud to be part of our community. I very much look forward to continuing to build on the school’s successes as we work towards our Vison of Excellence for 2020.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all members of the Gracemount High School community; pupils, staff and parents/carers as well as our school partners. You support, effort, hard work and commitment means a huge amount and when we come together there is no doubt that we change lives for the better.

I hope you all have a very enjoyable, safe, and well deserved summer break.

Kind regards

Ross Hunter
Head Teacher