‘Failing’ school is ‘betraying’ pupils and community

The new Campbeltown Grammar School opened in February 25_c18campbeltowngrammarschool01
Campbeltown Grammar School.

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A retired Campbeltown Grammar School (CGS) teacher has described the school’s ranking on a league table of Scottish secondary schools as ‘a betrayal of the pupils and the community’.

But Argyll and Bute Council says exam results are only part of the story and do not reflect the positive achievements of almost all school leavers.

The teacher, who did not want to be identified, spoke to the Courier following the publication of The Times school league table for 2021, which shows the percentage of S5 pupils in 340 schools who left school with five Highers.

CGS is ranked 334th, down from 245th last year, with just 12 per cent of students achieving five Highers.

The retired teacher said: ‘The six schools ranked below CGS [Linwood High School, Renfrewshire; Lochend Community High School, Glasgow; Govan High School, Glasgow; Wester Hailes Education Centre, Edinburgh; Northfield Academy, Aberdeen; and Craigroyston Community High School, Edinburgh] are all in areas of high multiple deprivation. Other Argyll and Bute schools are all middle ranked.

‘CGS’s performance is scandalous, a betrayal of the pupils and of the community which has always supported the school, an indictment of the leadership of the school coming hard on the excoriating Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education (HMIE) reports and which must now necessitate this failing school being brought into special measures.

‘If this humiliating race to the bottom is to be halted and the future of our young people and our community is to be protected, pressure has to be put on our education authority, our councillors, MSPs and MP to take action.’

A concerned parent, who chose to remain anonymous, also contacted the Courier. He said: ‘This is a school that claims to be at the heart of the community but I feel that it is failing children in the area.

‘Just 40 miles up the road in Tarbert, there’s a school that’s almost 300 places above Campbeltown and it’s a small rural school in a similar situation, yet one is thriving and the other isn’t.’

Tarbert Academy is ranked 41st in this year’s league table, with 56 per cent of students gaining five Highers.

South Kintyre’s councillors share the concerns about the school’s league table result, which comes after two ‘unacceptable’ inspection reports in recent years.

In a report dated April 24 2018, CGS was rated weak in three out of the four inspection categories, and a follow-up report, on January 21 2020, stated the school had made insufficient progress against the points for action.

Councillor Donald Kelly said: ‘For the past two years, I have been raising concerns at Mid Argyll, Kintyre and the Islands Area Committee meetings regarding the unacceptable results being produced by the school.

‘Pre-Covid, I arranged a meeting with the head teacher and the head of education to discuss the unacceptable inspection reports and sought assurances on what was being done to address the various issues raised. The situation has gone from bad to worse and I share the concerns of many parents who have contacted me.

‘It is past time the director of education and Argyll and Bute Council take whatever measures necessary to ensure that the current trend of poor results is reversed.

‘I would like to see a raft of follow-up HMIE inspections being carried out as soon as possible.’

Councillor John Armour said: ‘I am very concerned about the content of the league tables and have been contacted by rightly concerned parents.

‘While league tables are not the be-all-and-end-all in assessing the performance of a school, I feel this needs investigation by the council’s education department and I have contacted executive director Douglas Hendry asking for this to be looked at with urgency.

‘I am pleased that it is being treated as a priority and will put together a full, balanced picture of the position, going beyond the league table.

‘Staff, pupils and parents have had to put up with so much in the last year due to Covid and it is imperative that the council fully supports them in light of this information.’

Councillor Rory Colville added: ‘I assure your readers that I fully appreciate our community’s concerns.

‘Innovations in teaching are constantly emerging, giving me confidence that all in education will rise to the challenges ahead.’

Jenni Minto, MSP for Argyll and Bute, said: ‘It is broadly accepted that there is so much more to a school’s performance than raw exam results. I don’t believe that league tables can truly reflect the immense work done by teachers and pupils in CGS this year, during a global pandemic.

‘There is already excellence in our schools, but we all have a collective responsibility to ensure continual improvement in the progress and attainment of every child in Argyll and Bute.

‘I am absolutely committed to doing all that I can to reach that goal of closing the attainment gap and ensuring every child has access to free and quality education.’

Campbeltown Community Council has written to various people in authority, calling for immediate action from Argyll and Bute Council to bring about improvements in the teaching and learning at the school.

An Argyll and Bute Council spokesperson told the Courier it is ‘committed to delivering an education service that gives our young people the support they need to secure and sustain positive destinations and achieve success in life’.

The spokesperson added: ‘CGS delivers a senior phase curriculum that supports personalised learner pathways for pupils. These pathways offer a range of attainment and wider achievement courses and qualifications to support young people into a sustained positive destination.

‘Following consultation with parents, the curriculum structure at CGS was updated in May 2019 so that pupils were able to increase the number of qualifications that could be undertaken from five to six.

‘Since this change came into effect, results for August 2020 show that National 5 and Higher passes have increased as anticipated. We therefore expect to see the increased success achieved in National 5 qualifications last session, translating into an increased number of Highers achieved in 2020/21.

‘It is important to note that measuring success through the number of passes at National 5 and Higher are not reflective of how schools evaluate and analyse successful outcomes for their pupils. They are only part of the story. It doesn’t, for example, reflect that almost all school leavers in Campbeltown progress to positive destinations upon leaving school.

‘We have young people to be proud of at CGS and we will continue to provide them with the support, guidance and personalised learner pathways they need to achieve their goals, both in school and in life.’