Background - In summer 2005, Newbattle High School
became one of 28 schools from across Scotland to be selected to become the first group of Schools of Ambition.
Introduction - This overview is designed to provide a quick guide to what we did during our three years as a school of ambition. Each section contains one or more links to other documents. Some links will be useful to you, others will be completely irrelevant. Like all initiatives within education, it would be unwise for any school to replicate wholesale what is being done in another. Our pupils are different, our partners and colleagues are at different points in their journeys and our communities need different things from us. What brings us all together is our desire to bring the best possible experiences and opportunities to the young people in our communities. Being a school of Ambition has without doubt helped Newbattle to accelerate the improvements which were already taking shape. I hope you can find something which fits your school’s needs in much the same way that we have been inspired by the successes of colleagues around the country.
Depute Head Teacher
Our Schools of Ambition (SoA) plan began with three main aims: 1) To enhance Pupil leadership and Staff leadership ; 2) To develop excellence through the Arts (to which excellence through sports was later added) and; 3) To prioritise Support for Pupils, raising self-esteem and confidence leading to improved attainment. These aims were detailed in our Schools of Ambition Transformational Plan. You will see through the links provided in this brief ‘story’ that we can be very pleased with the results of three years of collective work. Our main focus now is to utilise the progress we have made as a springboard to implementation of Curriculum for Excellence.
Following the success of our bid, our SoA journey commenced with a weekend residential event for all middle managers and other interested parties. This was immensely beneficial. It allowed the key messages and pointers to the future to be communicated by the Head Teacher, Colin Taylor, and others who had already been involved. Very importantly it was set up to encourage maximum levels of participation and involvement from all who attended. With support from Forum Consultants, we were able to generate a collective vision and agree on a number of practical steps to help us make the vision a reality.
The four main elements, we felt, which would take us to where we wanted to go were:
- Newbattle ‘Peak Performance’ (which had originally been badged ‘The Big Idea’)
- XSGP – Cross-curricular sharing of good practice (e.g. Teacher Learning Community (TLC), Professional Exchange of Good Practice)
- Improving Parental Involvement
- Celebrating Success.
A full three years after this event it is very pleasing to report that the school has moved forward significantly in all four areas. As always however, these ‘strands’ did not progress equally quickly. Nor have they ended up looking exactly as we had envisaged. But that’s all part of the excitement of being in such a responsive and flexible school!
In the first two years of our SoA programme we were able to introduce the incredibly successful ‘Peak Performance’, re-launched a brilliant community newsletter, revolutionised our S1 Parents’ Evening format, celebrated pupil achievement through displays, events and two new plasma screens and fundamentally re-marketed what the name ‘Newbattle High School’ meant within the local and wider community.
At the end of our first year as a school of ambition we held a review with staff involved in delivering Peak Performance. This identified what had gone well and what needed to be improved, changed or indeed scrapped. The review in itself was a strong signal about the distribution of the leadership of the programme. One recommendation which emerged from this was to encourage greater levels of involvement from school departments and staff who had not originally been integral parts of the programme.
By the end of our second year over twenty staff contributed to our annual review, with some inspired suggestions about how they could extend the successes of the Arts and Sports to their own subjects. This was a key move, as it has helped us to broaden and sustain progress. Rumblings about CfE were becoming increasingly loud, and it was vital that we spread the notion and practice of cross-curricular partnerships throughout the school. It would have been easy, after all, to alienate ‘non-SoA’ departments inadvertently. Clearly, in order for Newbattle to move forward beyond the period of ‘Schools of Ambition’ funding it has been vital to keep all areas of the school on board. Research which we carried out well into our programme bears out the successes in this area:
It became increasingly clear that in order to offer enhanced experiences to our pupils without overburdening staff and systems we needed to introduce an events calendar. Any major Schools of Ambition-related events are identified here, alongside some ‘fixed’ points in the school calendar such as SQA exams and Prelims. Again, it has been important that SoA complements and supports attainment rather than creating conflicts and making pupils confused about priorities.
The explosion in pupil interest in our sports academies sparked a visit from HMIe national specialist, Fiona Carlyle. Fiona saw a very positive picture relating to both leadership development and levels of pupil engagement in sports (see report: Sports and Arts Participation - Before and After). Indeed Fiona was so impressed by what she saw that HMIe and LTS asked ‘The Learning Curve’ video company to capture our distributive leadership story in a Journey to Excellence video on Newbattle's distributive leadership approach (on our youtube stream) [if this link doesn't work, you can also view it on the Education Scotland website]. What was particularly gratifying was the fact that both staff and pupils were very aware of the opportunities that Newbattle was putting their way. “If you have a good idea in Newbattle, there’s a feeling amongst staff that the response from senior management will be, ‘Yes. How can we support you to make it happen?’”
During the past three years we have delivered many successes through Schools of Ambition. Some of these are more tangible than others. We speak of the buzz in areas of the school directly affected (how do you measure that?) and we speak of the increased self-confidence of our pupils based on increased practical and communication skills. Highlights of the very tangible products of SoA include the following events:
- ‘Back to the 80’s’, a musical theatre production which involved many pupils and staff across departments.
- Newbattle Fashion/Dance Show, featuring garments and hats designed and made by pupils complemented by dramatic dance performances from our fledgling dance academy
- Participation in the ‘Celebrating Change’ pupil event at Murrayfield Stadium (view video (on our youtube stream))
- The 1000×1000 Exhibition , capturing our view that every pupil in our school has something worthwhile to contribute
- Several high profile visitors to the school including a ministerial visit from the Minister for Schools and Skills and one from Rhona Brankin, MSP. Following this particular occasion, Mrs Brankin spoke very positively about Newbattle at the Scottish Parliament, taking up the majority of her time slot to describe the successes of the school. (Video of Mrs Brankin speaking in Scottish Parliament (on our youtube stream))
- All pupils, all staff and all parents were involved in deciding the school’s ‘Values for Life’. These will guide us as we face new challenges over time and provide young people in our community with a code by which to live their lives.
In our typical way, we are now in the midst of the next round of major events.
Our Dance Group and Academy have exploded onto the scene, winning inter-schools competitions, producing a sell-out full evening of dance from almost 100 pupils on stage and now ushering a new era of boys’ dance in the school.
Our second 1000×1000 exhibition is on the horizon, promising to be even better than the first. Our opening evening will again feature 1000 exhibits from every single one of our pupils. This time though, live performances from pupils including musical, fashion, dance and drama events will punctuate the evening. Highlights of this ‘all singing, all dancing’ show will be made available on this website after the event.
In March 2009, the school had a full HMIe inspection. We had been eagerly awaiting this for some months and were delighted when the inspecting team saw fit to ‘disengage from evaluative activities’ after two days – such was our level of self-awareness and capacity to improve. At that point in time Newbattle was only the fourth secondary school in Scotland where this had happened, recognising the distance we had travelled as a school over the past few years. HMIe also recognised two elements of our Schools of Ambition work as being ‘features of good practice’: Newbattle Peak Performance; and the Academies of Arts and Sports which we had built into our curriculum from S3 onwards.
So we come to the end of a story which is really only beginning. It is clear that our involvement in the Schools of Ambition programme has been very successful. While there is no single element which has led to this, there are perhaps two absolute necessities which we would want to share: firstly, ensuring very good levels of ‘buy-in’ right from the start of the programme; and secondly keeping everyone informed and involved in ongoing developments. Staff and pupils around the school feel part of the movement and have taken ownership of overall school improvement to levels not previously seen.
The pride felt by staff about what we have achieved is balanced by a sense of humility. We acknowledge that these achievements would not have been possible in such a short period of time without the support of the Scottish Government, Midlothian Council, our partners in the community, our parental community and most of all our pupils.