Pupils from 4 to 14 and older still

Nursery, primary and secondary students are all buddies together in Moffat. John Cairney reports

There are not many secondary headteachers in Scotland who could offer as a reason for not being able to make an appointment the fact that he or she was taking a primary one class. Fewer still could use participation in a nursery play dough session as an excuse.

But Jeff Brown, headteacher of Moffat Academy, could. He is regularly timetabled to work with nursery pupils and he proudly displays two leaves that his group produced as part of a Jack and the Beanstalk project to turn the nursery classroom into a castle.

It is a far cry from 5-14 and Higher Still perhaps, but they are in his remit too. For Moffat Academy is unique among Scottish mainstream schools in having nursery, primary and secondary departments all under one head.

The school management team is similarly special, consisting of the head, the secondary deputy head, the deputy primary head and a senior teacher in charge of the nursery. There is also a senior management advisory team comprising the above plus the principal guidance teacher, a principal "development" teacher and an elected teacher from the primary and secondary departments.

Mr Brown has been in charge since 1990, having come as deputy in 1988 when the secondary school was extended to include a fifth and sixth year. From an initial fifth year roll of eight pupils, the senior school has expanded to the present 23 in fifth year and a further 19 in the sixth year. The total school complement is 517, with a secondary roll of 227, and 271 pupilsin the primary.

The nursery class, established in 1994, currently has 19 but will have 33 next session. The nursery takes only four-year-olds, most of whom feed in from a local private care centre which accommodates the area's three-year-old children.

Moffat Academy's accommodation is cramped. But the mixture of 1930s solidity and 1960s functionalism seems to work.

The pupils are certainly well enough served: attendance is above the national average and the school's performances in Standard grade and Higher are consistently above national norms (57 per cent gaining five or more Standard grade Credit awards last year, for example, against the Scottish average of 31 per cent).

Head boy David Moffat has no complaints, although heading off to Edinburgh University with his string of Higher A passes to study ecology will mean forsaking the "strong community feeling" he has found at the school.

It is his commitment to this which helped him to overcome his reservations about Moffat's buddy system of older pupils supporting young ones. "There is a general feeling in the sixth year that it maybe isn't the best use of our time, but when you see the benefits to the first years you see that our help and advice means something."

The importance of heading the chief educational resource for much of the local population is not lost on Mr Brown. "This structure is here to stay because it not only benefits the young people, who have proved that they can go from a small school to a university environment in cities, but also benefits the local community," he says.

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