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Devil is in the details

A school that provides 'education of the highest standard' has received nine excellent gradings, writes Elizabeth Buie

The biggest denominational primary in Scotland has received the highest number of "excellent" gradings for a mainstream school to date from school inspectors.

Our Lady of the Missions Primary, in Thornliebank, East Renfrewshire, was given nine "excellent" quality indicators and six "very goods". Only Clippens special school in Linwood, Renfrewshire, which earlier this year received 10 "excellents", has exceeded the rating for OLM (as it is affectionately known).

Our Lady of the Missions, which has a wide and socially mixed, although relatively affluent, catchment area, including Thornliebank, Netherlee, Clarkston, and Giffnock, feeds into St Ninian's High in Giffnock. It has 664 pupils, a staff of nearly 40 teachers and 20 support staff. It has expanded twice and turns away placing requests, such is its popularity.

Its head, Charlie Jamieson, who is the only man in the school apart from the janitor, has two deputes, four principal teachers and a chartered teacher on the staff.

Having led two very different primaries as a headteacher - St Michael's in Port Glasgow and St Fergus's in Paisley - he is convinced of the benefits of larger schools. He is also an associate assessor with HMIE and says he appreciates just how hard it is to earn an "excellent" grading. "To go from 'very good' to 'excellent', it is minor details that make that difference,"

he said.

OLM received the top grading for pupils' learning experiences, attainment in English and mathematics, pastoral care, climate and relationships, expectations and promoting achievement, equality and fairness, partnership with parents, the school board and the community, and leadership.

Inspectors said the school provided "education of the highest standard" and praised Mr Jamieson's effectiveness as a manager and his excellent leadership and the corporate leadership of his deputes and principal teachers: "The school offered educational experiences that supported pupils' academic and personal and social development very effectively.

"Pupils brought credit to themselves and the school through their successes in a wide range of achievements and excellent levels of attainment."

The principal teachers were particularly effective in their leadership of curriculum developments in writing, science, ICT, French and enterprise.

The school's approach to self-evaluation was praised, and staff reportedly valued feedback from regular classroom observations.

The high standard of pastoral care was commended, and special mention made of the contribution of parish priests to OLM's strong identity as a faith school.

The school had a varied programme of extra-curricular activities, ranging from instrumental ensembles to prize-winning choirs, football and netball teams, and a wormery in the gardening club.

Mr Jamieson stressed the hard work done by the school to make sure that every pupil was happy and enjoyed learning. A focus on formative assessment helped ensure that all pupils were actively involved in their learning.

His previous two schools had quite different profiles, with many of the pupils there coming from backgrounds of social and economic deprivation.

However, he said: "Children are children throughout the world. They have different needs and life experiences, but we as a team respond to the needs of the children we have."

Many children at OLM had high expectations and compared themselves to their peers. "They may feel not as clever or academically able as others, but we set out in the school to celebrate the full child, not only academic attainment," said Mr Jamieson.

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