Vision and Action 7, March 2004  
Click for the next page!

Vision & Action is edited by Alison Closs and produced by Gina Reddie. Contact address:
Any enquiries about this publication should be directed to the Anti-Bullying Network on 0131 651 6103.


Blairgowrie High School
Beeches Road
Blairgowrie PH10 6PW
Contacts: Dan McGinty, Rector at the time of producing the V&A; John Fyffe, Rector
Tel: 01250 873445
Email: headteacher@blairgowrie.pkc.sch.uk


Vision & Action is published on an occasional basis to illustrate how schools that have already developed a positive ethos use positive approaches to cope with a particular event or unusual demand made on their school community. Without such approaches outcomes could have been negative for some individuals or, indeed, for the whole school. We welcome comments, suggestions and offers from schools to share their experience on any relevant topic.

This is the only Vision & Action Case Study among five Case Studies scheduled for 2003 -2004. Schools hope that when they feature in the media will be for entirely positive reasons. No school is without problems from time to time and the emphasis should be on addressing these promptly and quietly in ways that ensure that the difficulties do not recur and that the school’s focus can continue to be on providing appropriate and positive educational experiences for all its pupils. Adverse publicity can present further problems and inevitably results in the school having to address, more intensively than usual, its public interface with its community while, at the same time, examine and put to rights its own internal working in relation to the identified problems. During 2003, Blairgowrie High School was the subject of media interest because a legal Interim Interdict was granted on behalf of a senior pupil who had experienced bullying by other school pupils. This was the first time this had happened in Scotland. The media stories extended to other instances of alleged bullying and aggressive behaviour. This study looks at how our school community responded to this difficult situation.


Recovering a Sense of Belonging: Responding to Adverse Publicity

Blairgowrie High School is a learning community located in the town of Blairgowrie in Highland Perthshire. In August 2003, there were 1044 pupils on the roll. It has a staff of 115, of whom 83 are teaching staff. Our school is 97 years old and over the years has developed strong, positive traditions and good links with our local community.

Our school was not itself the subject of the legal interdict - some young people were. The Interim Interdict required that that these young people should not trouble the pupil who had been bullied. We needed to make sure that the pupils against whom the order had been served were following the terms of the interdict within the school. Before proceeding with other priorities, therefore, we developed a strategy of managing the interdict. This meant more detailed time-tabling for the affected pupils by a member of the senior management team.

An intensive period of evaluation by the school, the council and others and widespread consultation was necessary. Perth and Kinross Council, in consultation with our School Board, implemented a support strategy for our school, designed both to clarify antecedents and to take the school forward in a positive way. The Executive Director of Education and Children’s Services and the Convenor of the Education (now Lifelong Learning) Committee developed an action plan with the following key aspects:

There was a focus on school leadership and management: a head teacher was seconded from within Perth and Kinross to provide leadership and support.
Research on the in-school functioning, relationships and perspectives was commissioned by the Council and undertaken by external consultants. The Edinburgh-based consultants shared their findings with our school community (see later).
Key council policies – in community partnership, ethos of achievement and effective learning and teaching – were to be reinforced. A policy was developed to improve communication with parents and the media.

What influenced our thinking and actions?

Our school had undergone a standards and quality inspection in 1999 and HMIe identified specific issues in our ethos, relationships and communications that had to be addressed with some urgency. Action points arising from the HMI report led to developments that are salient to this Vision and Action that focuses on ‘recovery’. We were also very concerned about our record of exclusions – 112 pupils for a total of 576 days in 2002/2003 and 104 pupils for a total of 514 days in 2001/2002. A recurring theme among some pupils had been threatening behaviour with some physical violence and verbal abuse of staff.

Our seconded head teacher had previous experience of working with the Scottish Schools Ethos Network and felt that the situation in Blairgowrie could benefit from some of the strategies promoted by SSEN. He had also previously worked with the Roman Catholic Bishop of Dunkeld on the importance of a sense of belonging and mutual respect within our diverse communities. Research on shared leadership and on how social capital is generated in school communities were other external influences that could also be brought to bear in addressing our difficulties.

Within our school community, we had inherited a strong legacy of taking a pride in our school and of tapping in to the desire of pupils, staff and parents to work together (see picture A) and to help each other to learn effectively. We also shared a very strong desire to win back the esteem of our local community.

How did members of our school community feel about the situation?

Here are some comments drawn from the research undertaken, illustrating substantial confusion, some hurt, denial and defensiveness, as well as constructive suggestions:

"Any school in Scotland could have had problems. The press blew it out of proportion".
(Teacher)

"If you’re told you can’t do something and then someone else does it and gets away with it, you’ll be more likely to try it yourself".
(Pupil)

"The kids actually like the stricter teachers better. They like to know where the boundaries are".
(Parent)

"Why should we respect a teacher who is rude to us?".
(Pupil)

"It is very important that the senior management team sees its role as a discipline one, not as a friend when pupils are not conforming to standards of behaviour. Obviously they need to give praise where praise is merited, through awards of certificates and positive feedback. But both roles should be clearly understood by pupils".
(Teacher)

"We could all work better as a team. We need to work on team building".
(Support staff)

"There’s a lot of people with good ideas but the communication is poor".
(Teacher)

"It’s a society problem. Everyone is looking out for themselves".
(Parent)

However, these comments also indicated some possible improvement strategies:

building a sense of belonging
developing and demonstrating respect for each other
working together
taking our responsibilities seriously.

Holding on to what we did well

While what we did well could not disguise or negate the substantial aspects of school life that required improvement, it was really important for the school community’s self-belief that we did not lose sight of our strengths. Following the adverse publicity in 2003, pupils in particular felt resentful that their achievements were not being given proper recognition. These included:

high quality musical productions (see Pictures A and B)
community celebrations led by pupils receiving additional support for learning
individual achievements at national level in sport and technology
participation in social inclusion projects with outside agencies
pupil-led ICT work in setting up our school’s website
effective leadership from senior pupils, with support and example being offered to younger pupils (see Picture C).

Furthermore, the 1999 HMIe report on our school had praised:

some very good examples of direct teaching
very good support for pupils with special educational needs
a wide range of extra-curricular activities
very good arrangements for supported study and a high quality learning resource centre.

Follow the link in the column to the right to read the very latest 2004 HMIe report.

Blairgowrie High School

Blairgowrie High School
Click the school badge to visit their website.
Click the school badge to visit their website.

 

Click to visit the website of Perth and Kinross Council
Click the logo above to visit the website of Perth and Kinross Council.

 

Smiles of Achievement

Picture A: Smiles of Achievement - pupils who participate in a school-police community project won the prize for choreography at the 2004 Rock Challenge in Aberdeen.

 

 

Blairgowrie dancers

Picture B: Using up energy in a positive way - the young Blairgowrie dancers at Rock Challenge in Aberdeen.

 

 

 

 

Someone to look up to

Picture C: Someone to look up to - a senior pupil is buddy for some new S1 arrivals.

 

Click to read the report!

Click on the HMIe logo above to read the 2004 report on Blairgowrie High School in .pdf format.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Don't forget to turn the page for more of this Vision and Action. Use the forward arrow to the top right of this page!