Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Headteacher Update 18 - Tuesday 27th March 2018

March 2018

Dear Parent/Carer

As we approach the Easter break, I wanted to take this opportunity to update you on how the school is progressing. I have changed the format of my blog and will use the five school priority headings to provide this information. We are currently working on our improvement planning for next session and   I will update you more on our progress in June. In the meantime, if you wish to remind yourself of the school priorities then please follow the link below to watch a series of videos:

Improvement Plan Video for Parents 

Learning and Teaching
Over the last two years, there has been a clear focus on developing co-operative learning within the school. Co-operative learning is where students work together in small groups and everyone is assigned a task. All pupils are expected to contribute towards achieving a common goal. There is clear international evidence that when done well, co-operative learning can have a big impact on positive outcomes for pupils.

This approach is a part of our learning and teaching and happens in classes where the teacher feels it will support learning.  It helps pupils to become more engaged by leading their learning as well as learning from each other and the teacher.

As we progress into next session, we will ensure we keep developing the skills of our teachers. By putting this at the forefront of our professional development as a school we can ensure the highest standard of teaching and learning.

Since I have taken over as Head Teacher, almost three and a half years ago, we have worked tirelessly as a school to develop and promote our ethos. Our foundation to this was the development of our vision and values which are now embedded in the life of our school. To support our approach we embarked on the journey to become a Rights Respecting School and in March 2017 we were awarded our level 1 status.

I am delighted to announce that last week Gracemount High School was awarded the level two gold award for being a Rights Respecting School. We are the first state secondary school in the city of Edinburgh to achieve this award and we are very proud of the work we have done to get this far.

The assessment report can be found on the school website under the Rights Respecting School tab. However, particular strengths of the school were identified as follows:-

v  Strong strategic direction that is fully committed to RRSA
v  Very positive respectful relationships throughout the school
v  Pupil voice is a strength of the school and continues to be nurtured and encouraged
v  Effective systems to ensure all pupils feel included and respected

Our focus on Dress Code continues and we feel strongly that this supports a very positive ethos within the school. We ask that you continue to support us by ensuing your child adheres to the standards expected. Should you need any advice on where to purchase school clothing or where to access school clothing grants, please contact your child’s Guidance Teacher in the first instance.

Pupil Support
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.

Exam arrangements for those pupils who require additional support have been finalised and all supports are now in place. Should any parents/carers have a query regarding this matter, please contact Mrs Wilson, Support for Learning leader.

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 has been appointed to support the development of  literacy and has been working with several pupil in S3 and S4 to help them improve their literacy standards.
2.   Numeracy development – together with Gracemount primary we are appointing a numeracy development officer who will work with both schools. The person will be responsible for developing a numeracy strategy and engaging parents in supporting their children to develop these skills. We hope to appoint a person to post just after Easter and we are very excited about jointly working together.
3.       STEM (Science Technology and Engineering) – Mr Rory Wallis has been appointed as our STEM development officer and will lead the schools approach to 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.
6.       At the time of writing I am investigating further partnership working to see how we can support our most vulnerable and at risk pupils. I expect to be able to give you an update in my June blog.

Easter revision classes will take place during the Easter break for senior pupils. Timetables have been issued and pupils are strongly encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity provided by staff.

Our planning for next year’s timetable is almost complete. The course choice process has taken place and Mr Hutchison is working hard on creating next session’s timetable. This is always a very time consuming and complicated process and there are some important points to consider:

1.       We run a 50% cut off mark to determine if classes run. This means that classes where 30 pupils can attend e.g. History, Geography, French etc. need a minimum of 15 pupils in order to go ahead. Classes which can accommodate 20 pupils require a minimum of 10 pupils for it to go ahead.

Where there is less than the 50% interest, we undertake a review to see if the subject can run based on the capacity of the teaching resource we have. Inevitably, some subject areas which were on the option form will not go ahead and this can lead to some pupil and parent disappointment. We always endeavour to do our best to support the young person to find an alternative and should you have any concerns then please  contact the school.

2.       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 however, they must do so 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 session 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.

Our S3 pupils will be sitting an exam week beginning 23 April. These exams will take place in the classroom and will give us a good indication of pupils’ progress to date. They will be used, along with a range of other assessment evidence, to determine the levels to which pupils will progress in S4. It is important our S3 pupils prepare for these exams as thoroughly as possible.

Our approach to developing our Broad General Education (S1-3) continues to evolve as we are looking at the development of our “schools of programme” which is aimed at developing skills and knowledge in the S1 curriculum. The programme will be aimed at the new S1 intake and more information will follow after the Easter break.

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.

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 and we will share this with you in due course.

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 also currently involved in visiting 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 this exercise more details will follow.

Other Information:-

Details about the SQA’s post results service can be found on the school website under the SQA tab.

We are in the process of planning our staffing for next session and will update you more in June. In the meantime the staffing update is as follows:-

1.       Permanent teacher of Modern Studies – Interviews to take place on Tuesday 27 April
2.       Diane Pringle has been appointed as a Pupil Support Assistant and will start in due course.

Important Dates
·         Thursday 29 March – end of term. Please note this is not a half day.
·         Tuesday 17 April - Pupils return to school
·         23 April – S3 exams start
·         30 April – SQA exams start – Please refer to our study leave programme in the SQA section of our website
·         7 May – Public Holiday – school closed
·         8 May – teacher in-service day
·         11 May – S1 reports issued
·         16 May – P7 Parent Information Evening
·         21 May – Public Holiday – school closed
·         24 May – S1 Parent Consultation Evening
·         25 May – S3 Tracking reports 2 issued

Kind Regards

Ross Hunter
Head Teacher