Case Study 40, June 2004

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.Varying the Curriculum and Re-thinking Student Support:
Routes to Better Learning?.

This is the final Case Study during the 2003-04 session. It is the first, however, to have a new Reflective Learning Supplement. We are very grateful that Stranraer Academy and its Rector, Jimmy Higgins, have agreed to be our partners in this pilot venture. The rationale for the Supplement is set out in its introduction. The slightly changed format of the Case Study, with numbered paragraphs, will enable it to be used more effectively with the Supplement. Stranraer Academy is a six year comprehensive school in Dumfries and Galloway Authority. The school and its community, including other services and organisations, have undertaken a series of developments to increase the school's inclusive capacity and educational effectiveness. To achieve these ends the curriculum has been varied for some students and the ways and means of offering support to students have also been re-thought and expanded. Outcomes of these changes have generally been positive but the school acknowledges that more work must be undertaken to achieve all its current aims and then there will, almost certainly, be more new aims.

Stranraer Academy

This Case Study was published by the Scottish Schools Ethos Network.

Contact for this Case Study
Stranraer Academy
Rector: Jimmy Higgins
McMasters Road
Stranraer DG9 8BY
Tel: 01776 706484
Fax: 01776 704748

SSEN Case Studies allow schools to look behind the doors and into the playgrounds and communities of other schools to see how they have taken forward a wide range of initiatives and ideas, all of which contribute to developing schools' ethos and their pupils' academic and other achievements. A Reflective Learning Supplement asks questions related to Reflective LearningCase Study 40 that might help schools illuminate their own activities. Some of the issues explored here are specific to secondary schools but there are some questions of wider interest. When you see the Reflective Learning image, click on it to read the supplementary information.

We would welcome constructive comments on the Reflective Learning supplements. The kind of feedback that would be useful is as follows: ways in which it was used; any actual or hoped for outcomes from those activities; specific suggestions on what might have made the supplements more useful.

1. Introduction

1.1 Stranraer Academy is a school of approximately 1150 students, 90 teachers, 18 classroom assistants and 15 technical, auxiliary and clerical staff. The catchment area, in the Rhins area of Wigtownshire, reaches from the Mull of Galloway in the south, to Portpatrick in the west, Glenluce in the east, and Cairnryan in the North. It could be described as ‘remote’ – its closest neighbouring secondary school is in Northern Ireland!

Reflective Learning1.2 The building that greets visitors is daunting - a dilapidated concrete block surrounded by wire fencing that is, hopefully, destined for demolition. Once past this eyesore, however, the view gives way to our exciting main building, erected in 1997, that resembles an up-market shopping mall (See Picture A). The far end of our large campus comprises a further three sixties-built concrete blocks and some excellent sporting facilities - two football pitches, a rugby pitch, swimming pool (See Picture B) and an all-weather running track. Hopefully, renovation and building work will be completed by 2007.

Reflective Learning1.3 An outstanding feature of Stranraer Academy - in which we take pride – is that it caters for all students in our community of all abilities and with special challenges. It has three learning resource centres providing support for students with, respectively; severe, profound and complex learning difficulties, moderate learning difficulties and social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.

1.4 The school’s surrounding community is economically dependent on two shipping lines to Ireland, agriculture, a creamery and other small scale industries and enterprises. Unemployment is high, and low paid and part-time jobs are common. The school is subject to the benefits and problems of both rural and urban life. The mix, then, is one of varying needs and demands, requiring a wide range of support systems. Twelve years of innovation have strived to address these.

2. Varying the Curriculum

Reflective Learning2.1 The curriculum has been a major challenge. Whilst most of the curriculum suits the majority of students most of the time, issues like relevance, motivation, pace, rigour and level of the curriculum have challenged us in relation to some students.

Reflective Learning2.2 Some youngsters were unable to cope with Foundation/Access 3 levels in S3/S4. Year after year we seemed almost resigned to this group - usually in double figures - either failing to cope, becoming disaffected and even in some cases being excluded. Alternatively, they were supported in the more academically and socially restricted context of a learning support centre. Last year we developed an Access 2 Science course that was very successful in motivating students, providing progression and making them feel part of the mainstream curriculum. It is our aim to develop Access 2 courses across the curriculum, featuring them in our option forms equally alongside all other choices.

Reflective Learning2.3 This year we also linked up with the Stranraer campus of Dumfries and Galloway College to provide an option for S4 students experiencing significant disaffection. In February twelve students began a series of vocational taster courses comprising Construction, Hairdressing, Care and Hospitality, with an option to choose one for more intensive study in August. Seven students stayed the course and, importantly, are far more confident, positive and outward looking. Their future prospects look brighter.

Reflective Learning2.4 As elsewhere, it takes prolonged determination to get scarce tradesmen in Stranraer, yet our curriculum offered few clearly vocational choices. To combat this we became an Authority pilot school, linking up with the local college again to offer SVQ and SQA courses in Hairdressing, Care, Hospitality and Construction. These opportunities have been eagerly taken up by 35 students who, hopefully, will have achieved Intermediate 2 standard by the end of S4 and, importantly, will also have real experiences on which to plan their future.

Reflective Learning2.5 Like many schools we have also widened the academic curriculum, introducing Media Studies, Psychology and Sociology. Those have all been popular, providing competition in the ‘subjects market’ and generating controversy among staff in subject areas that have lost students to the new subjects.

Reflective Learning2.6 Staff evaluations suggested that some learning skills and attainments were weaker and in need of practise by all students at all levels to ensure learning consolidation. To address this we created a unique 30-minute, four days a week, time-tabled slot named ‘Extended Study’. This offers every student the opportunity to develop and consolidate their Mathematical skills in S1, specific technical English skills in S2, Learning, Study and IT skills in S3 and Science skills in S4. A high percentage of S5 and S6 students have part-time jobs - this development gives them dedicated time for study either of a general nature or in a curricular area of their choice - e.g. Art. Our Library offers excellent study and IT facilities (See Pictures C and D)

"S5 Extended Study allowed for extra study and preparation for a variety of subjects - perfect for doing timed responses in semi-controlled conditions. It was also a set time when we were able to discuss our work in details with staff and other students".
S5 Student

"Extended Study has without doubt become my most useful tool in consolidating knowledge and understanding".
Physics Teacher

Reflective Learning2.7 While we are only in the second year of this project the improvement in national test results in English Writing was dramatic - our best ever. Chemistry, Physics and Biology also improved - partly attributable to the science teachers being able to ‘refresh’ learning from units covered in S3 throughout S4 but without impinging on the S4 course which ran as usual.

2.8 When parents of our students with severe, profound and complex needs pressed us to extend inclusion by placing the youngsters from their support unit into some mainstream classes, we did so with some apprehension. However, the extent of their participation and inclusion has been highly encouraging. They simply operate within a curriculum more significantly differentiated than that of the other students in class, many of whom also require some differentiation.

2.9 Extra-curricular activities have also expanded over the last year, thanks partly to the appointment of a sports co-ordinator for the school. There are 28 extra-curricular options for students, from role-play to rugby, chess to curling, as well as clubs for writers, art, debating and, of course, football. Our girls’ 7s team will be in the national finals at Hampden Park and the under-13 boys (see Picture E) will play Currie High School in the Scottish Cup Final at Firhill. Many of our youngsters’ progress through the school, both social and academic, is underpinned by positive self-esteem acquired through extra-curricular achievements reinforced by positive feedback from highly committed staff.

"Extra curricular activities develop students’ sporting and recreational interests across a wide range of activities. They also promote personal and social development of students and foster closer links between students and staff".
PE Teacher



Picture A: Our modern central hall

Picture A: Our modern central hall.










Picture B: Our excellent facilities include a swimming pool.

Picture B: Our excellent facilities include a swimming pool.



Picture C: Our library offers an ideal study environment

Picture C: Our library offers an ideal study environment.





Picture D: The library with Success Maker software and students' artwork displayed above.

Picture D: The library with Success Maker software and students' artwork displayed above.


Picture E: Our under-13s were Scottish Cup Finalists.

Picture E: Our under-13s were Scottish Cup Finalists.


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