Dedicated to ensuring success

Pat Sweeney, head of Holy Rood High, explains the factors that have enabled his school to earn a quality rating from the inspectors.

Having applied their brand new performance indicators to Holy Rood High, Her Majesty's Inspectors have concluded that it is a good school. At the risk of accusations of proprietorial conceit, I am more than happy to agree with their conclusions.

Holy Rood, in Craigmillar, is a very good school, and the main reason for that is that it has very good teachers. A school may have the most charismatic and inspiring headteachers, be located in Elysian surroundings and have limitless resources, but without the daily toil of committed and professional teachers it cannot provide the service that parents and young people require.

Nearly half of the Holy Rood teaching staff have been appointed in the last three years. Seventy-two per cent of them are women. We have used every opportunity of promotion, retirement and rise in the school roll to recruit the best people available. As a result, the age profile of the staff has dropped significantly, and the young people we have recruited are conscientious and committed professionals.

Teachers are helped in their work by dedicated support staff, who daily demonstrate a high level of loyalty and service to the school in spite of overwhelming demands and meagre financial regards.

The key to the success of a school is partnership, and, in Holy Rood, we work hard at creating partnerships of parents, parishes and local business to enhance and encourage the work of the curriculum. The school board is active and vibrant, and takes a keen interest in the running of the school. The Holy Rood Association, our parent-teacher association, provides several thousand pounds each year for extra resources, and it is an ever-present feature of all school events and celebrations. Royal Mail, prominent among our supportive local companies, has helped to finance the school's brochure for parents entitled Emma goes to Holy Rood and offers a wide range of activities to staff and pupils.

The Catholic identity of the school also creates a particular cohesion and unity of purpose, as chaplains, parish communities and staff in our associated primary schools join us in seeking to provide signposts for young people in the moral wilderness of the late twentieth century.

A particularly encouraging outcome of our recent inspection was the findings of the survey of parents. This demonstrated what the end-users of the service really care about. Happily it confirmed that the school enjoys the overwhelming confidence and support of its parents. No fewer than 95 per cent of parents surveyed considered that their children were happy in school, and almost all felt that the school was open and accessible to them. The survey demonstrated that parents value their children's safety and welfare, their academic progress, freedom from bullying and want them to be happy and contented in school.

Our pupils were described in the inspection report as "well-behaved, polite and courteous". The behaviour of pupils and the level of disruption accepted can have a profound effect on the quality of our schools. Paradoxically, by dealing vigorously with disruption and lowering our tolerance levels of unacceptable behaviour, we have reduced the number of short-term exclusions significantly and permanent exclusions to nil. Achieving this has required a unanimity of purpose from staff, and a determination by management to draw some lines clearly in the sand. Whatever trendy theorists may claim, mayhem and effective learning simply don't mix.

Every lunchtime the PE department is packed with children enjoying football, basketball and, most popular of all, modern dance. The orchestra and choir also attract large numbers from all year-groups and levels of ability. A French club is offered each week by the modern languages department. These are just a few examples of the extras available to pupils. This year there will be three foreign excursions by pupils who could never otherwise benefit from such an experience. The readiness of staff to "go the extra mile" is another hallmark of the quality of the school.

Inclusiveness has to be a characteristic of the Catholic school, and Holy Rood has made a success of managing pupils with particular needs. There is a specialist teacher for pupils with dyslexia, and we recently admitted our first pupil confined to a wheelchair. This boy, who has cerebral palsy, has brought out the best in Holy Rood's staff and pupils. They have done their utmost to help him overcome the obstacles between him and a mainstream education.

Improving the confidence of parents in the school and raising its profile in its community have been significant challenges in my first three years at Holy Rood. Teaching staff can be exceedingly self-critical and they are embarrassed by the public celebration of their work. Newspaper articles, glossy publications, and awards marking the achievements of the school have been appreciated but regarded with hesitation and diffidence.

However, we operate in a competitive market, and the independent sector in Edinburgh appears to have the press and media firmly within its grasp. If we are to survive and compete with independent schools, our publicity material and promotional skills have to be a match for theirs.

While the daily running of the school is increasingly devolved to headteachers, strategic issues of buildings, resources and quality assurance remain largely the province of the education authority. As schools become more autonomous, their relationship with the local authority needs to be reappraised. Education authorities will only continue to have a valid role if they can provide the best services available to schools at a competitive price in a totally open market-place.

At its Edinburgh conference, the city council and its headteachers need to consider how they can together create and sustain the quality school beyond the millennium.

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