Case Study 39, February 2004

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Drawing on and Investing in
a Close Community

This is the third Case Study of four during the 2003-04 session. Sgoil Nan Loch, a new 5-14 school designed and built by the Western Isles Council has selected themes that illustrate how the school has both invested in, and draws upon, the rich resources of close community life in Scotland's islands. They learned from their own formation out of four schools that were closed that, if a positive ethos is to be maintained, all transitions need to be handled in ways that ensure: continuity for those affected; a welcome for newcomers; and a good send-off for those leaving - with confidence nurtured by the school. The school also found that the local community spirit, the positive school ethos and the bonus of their fine new building (see Picture A), enabled strides to be made in increasing inclusion. Finally, the school has sought greater engagement with local environmental issues, and with the culture and community life of the Lochs area so that the school really is a positive influence and resource.

Contacts:
Sgoil Nan Loch
Head Teacher:
Andrew Reeves
Cameron Terrace
Leurbost
Isle of Lewis
HS2 9PE
Tel: 01851 705187
Fax: 01851 701103

Email: sgoilnanloch@eileanansiar.biblio.net


Introduction

Sgoil Nan Loch (Loch's School) on the Isle of Lewis, beyond Skye off the west coast of Scotland, was opened in August 2001. It serves the area of Lochs. The closure of three primary schools and of one 5-14 school, all of which had been serving their own small communities, and the move to a new facility, albeit in a superb building, were not without some pain and stress. However, the new school is building on the histories and strengths of its predecessors, not least through inheriting many pupils and staff from them. Historically, the Isle of Lewis has been a very close knit community with most people knowing, or knowing of, each other. Most of our pupils know each other very well indeed. Many of the families in our school are related to each other either closely or distantly and their lives have been interwoven and touched by these relationships over the generations. This makes the building of a supportive community within the school is that much easier, although it can never be taken for granted.

Our core pupil population comprises 94 pupils from P1 to S2. Staffing is as follows: Head Teacher, Depute Head Teacher, 3 full-time Primary and 1 full-time Secondary teachers, 14 part-time and peripatetic teachers, 1 classroom assistant and 5 full-time auxiliaries, 3 of whom work with our pupils with severe and complex learning difficulties. Our support staff, vital to the well-being of all, comprises our school secretary, janitor, 3 canteen staff and 4 cleaners. In addition, there are 3 more staff and 21 more children in 'extensions' to our school community that are described later.

Easing transitions and increasing inclusion

The strengths of a relatively small and close community are many and obvious but change can still seem threatening. An essential part of creating a positive ethos is to enable change and challenges to be overcome by all successfully. We have tried to do this in a variety of ways, not least by facilitating transitions and increasing inclusion.

Preparing, moving, involving . . .

During the final term of the 2000-2001 session we needed to take a number of decisions to put structures in place for the start of the new session in our new school building. Negotiations took place over the phone and at meetings during and after school. The interim School Board, set up to oversee the transition in conjunction with the staff, tackled finding a name for the new school, deciding on school colours, devising a logo and establishing whether or not the school would be advocating a full school uniform. Parents were surveyed on this last matter. An almost unanimous response advocated a full school uniform approach. Pupils were asked to enter competitions to consider colours, school name and logo and a local businessman offered to provide prizes. By this time we felt that everyone affected by the move to the new school was actively engaged in the setting-up process and consultations.

Our first challenge was trying to make the transition from the closing schools to the new school as seamless as possible. The staff had to establish new classrooms and routines with minimum disruption to the pupils' education. During the summer holidays of 2001 they spent many hours at the new school working out the logistics. We realised increasingly that the well-designed new building was itself a morale booster - making tasks much easier (see Picture B). Excitement mixed with trepidation as the new term loomed. The majority of the new school staff came from the closing schools but some completely new staff were joining us and needed to be made welcome. That summer of staff members working together towards a common goal was well spent. Sharing the challenge 'bonded' us, not just at that critical time but later as well.

Easing pupils' transitions

The school is situated on the main Harris to Stornoway road. As a result, pupils from other areas have opted to come to Sgoil nan Loch on placement requests and have enriched all stages of our school. Pupils from our associated primary school are invited to our school for Secondary induction purposes in P7. They and younger members of their school also come to Sgoil nan Loch if we are hosting drama or music workshops with outside agencies.

It was very important to assign a member of staff for the incoming S1 and S2 pupils for pastoral care and as a source of information for them. To do this we have introduced tutorial sessions for pupils in the secondary department. This arrangement allows individual pupils to have one-to-one sessions with a tutor to discuss their progress and anything that is important to them. Doing this made us see the need for pupils who join the school during their primary years to have prior meetings with our primary class teachers. It was easy to assume that this would just take place but it actually took co-ordinated effort.

Our Primary classes participate in 'Circle Time' and staff members have found this valuable. Our secondary pupils are involved in 'interface' sessions that, like Circle Time, allow them to air any issues of importance to them. Our school uses the Golden Rules posters and encourages pupils to reflect on their messages. Posters are displayed around the school as reminders of how we would wish pupils to behave and treat others, including those pupils who are new to our community. Every pupil is placed into a 'house' on arrival at the school to help them identify with a smaller group of pupils and to facilitate their participation. The house names, chosen by the pupils, are of local hills - Mobhal, Scalabhal and Beinne Mhor. House captains and vice-captains, along with members of the School Council, all have duties that benefit the rest of the school community.

When our S2 pupils are about to leave us to move on to S3 in Stornoway the staff have started a tradition of inviting the youngsters to a formal dinner to celebrate their graduation from Sgoil nan Loch (see Picture C). Staff serve the pupils a three course meal with silver service and after tea/coffee we have a ceilidh. The evening has proved a great success and is eagerly awaited by each graduating year!

While the larger and smaller transitions within school life are important, our pupils need to be prepared also for even more significant later changes such as leaving the family home and, for some, leaving Lewis. At two points in their school life at Sgoil nan Loch we give the pupils a residential experience as a boost to morale and wider socialisation. Our oldest primary class enjoys a week away at the Scaladale Centre in Harris, where they can walk, climb, abseil and canoe, amongst other activities. Our older secondary class is taken to the capital city for a week where they enjoy many varied activities, e.g., visits to Murrayfield Rugby Stadium, Edinburgh Castle (see Picture D), various museums, and the cinema, going bowling and taking the bus or train over to Glasgow. We feel that these visits give our pupils and staff the opportunity to get to know each other at a deeper level.

Increasing inclusion in the school community

During the year before we moved to Sgoil nan Loch the community was in the process of setting up a playgroup in the local community centre. However, our new building had been planned to house a local playgroup if one existed. When the school opened we were delighted to welcome the pre-school group 'Little Lochies' of 15 children and 2 staff to our school. The group has become an integral part of our school and liaison between the playgroup leaders and our early stages teacher has grown steadily to the benefit of all.

Our new school building had two further areas waiting to be allocated or developed for specific purposes. Within months of opening we were asked by the pre-school service of our education department to accommodate a group working with six children with sensory impairments. We all agreed on the mutual benefits to the children in the group and to the existing school population. Two years on they form an important and entirely positive part of our school, with some children staying on in our school as they reach school age while others go off to their own local school. This year we have had the opportunity to introduce a class that caters for three school-age children with severe and complex learning needs. The addition of each of these groups has enriched our school community and given the opportunity for all of the staff and pupils to broaden their horizons and to recognise the value of a more varied community. Inclusion has progressed steadily with consideration given to every child.

Don't forget the staff!

Any school staff room is a product of the people who use it and ours is a happy one which we try to keep calm and free from paperwork! (If every adult who had some role in supporting our pupils were here simultaneously we would be 54 people.)

A haven of rest but always a buzz of excitement, a place to unwind and laugh.
(Teacher)

Staff feel free to comment on issues, express opinions, agree and disagree professionally, all to the benefit of our pupils. Like our pupils, staff members know each other well, share personal experiences of babies, adolescents, elderly relatives… and have a very real concern for each other and for the community in which they live and work. Every member of staff, whatever their role, contributes in different ways to the school's communal efforts. Our work with parents is based on empathic understanding of our shared role in developing their children.

 

Click to visit!

 

 

Picture A: Our superb school building in its scenic setting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture B: We all really like our school. (Drawing from Early Stages pupil).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture C: S2's graduation dinner last year with silver service provided by staff!

 

 

 

 

 

Picture D: S2 visits the City of Edinburgh.

 

 

 

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