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Catholic school is top of the form

A strong ethos and inclusive practices are singled out as reasons for success

St Ninian's High in East Renfrewshire - one of the magnet schools in the south side of Glasgow - has received the best ever secondary school report from HMIE.

The announcement of its unprecedented seven "excellent" and 10 "very good" gradings comes at a time when the local authority is embroiled in a dispute with neighbouring Glasgow over the school's catchment boundaries.

St Ninian's report places it at the head of a long list of denominational schools to win the highest plaudits from the inspectorate.

John Docherty, the headteacher, whose leadership was described as "excellent", said the secret of the school's success was "teamwork that involves pupils, teaching and support staff, parents, the community, church and council".

Schools Minister Maureen Watt visited St Ninian's to offer her personal congratulations. "This achievement shows a real commitment from the school in both listening to and meeting the needs of all the pupils," she said.

"I am particularly delighted to see the school's successful innovative approaches and the high quality of work by its staff receiving public recognition by HMIE."

Inspectors praised the school's "effective, carefully implemented approaches to curriculum innovation, particularly in response to A Curriculum for Excellence".

While the inspectorate has been critical of some schools' approaches to curricular flexibility and innovation, it commended St Ninian's for the planning and implementation of its curricular structure, offering a choice of subjects from the end of S1, and its introduction from S23 of programmes based on Access and Intermediate National Qualifications, with progression to S6 through a wide range of courses and levels.

The development of a diploma for S6 pupils, recognising their broader achievements, based on the key outcomes for A Curriculum for Excellence, was also commended.

St Ninian's strong Catholic ethos and inclusive practices were also commented on. For Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, that is a large part of the explanation for the denominational sector's dominance of the top HMIE rankings.

In recent times, St Ninian's High in Kirkintilloch, St Andrew's Secondary in Glasgow, St Ambrose High in Coatbridge, St Aidan's High in Wishaw, Our Lady's High in Cumbernauld, St Modan's High in Stirling, St Andrew's High in Clydebank and St Paul's High in Glasgow have been among the highest-graded secondaries - many serving deprived communities.

In the primary sector, the top reports under the new six-point inspection scheme have gone to Our Lady of the Missions and St Mark's, both in East Renfrewshire.

"All schools have to work hard to serve their community, irrespective of faith, but the Catholic school has an advantage there, because there is a natural expectation built into the mission of the school that it should do this," said Mr McGrath. "There is a common understanding that its purpose is to create a community of faith as well as a community of learning."

He believes that the Catholic school's focus on the needs of young people has an impact on both attainment and discipline.

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