An 11-pupil rural school near Lockerbie has become the first primary to gain five out of five "excellent" gradings from inspectors against new Curriculum for Excellence criteria.
The report, praising Hightae Primary in Dumfries and Galloway, confounds the argument made by proponents of small school closures that, because of their size, they cannot deliver CfE effectively.
Education secretary Michael Russell described Hightae's performance as "a great example of what can be achieved" by a small rural school, using flexibility offered by CfE.
Education Scotland chief executive Bill Maxwell described Hightae as "a notably high-performing school that has fully embraced the opportunities that the new curriculum presents".
A Dumfries and Galloway Council spokeswoman said the authority did not currently have any plans to close rural schools.
"However, despite the success at Hightae, there is recognition that in order to sustain their viability that sharing of practice and experiences is vital. This is done informally at Hightae and we are reviewing management arrangements to formalise partnership working."
Two secondary schools were praised by Dr Maxwell and learning minister Alasdair Allan for their reports. Bishopbriggs Academy in East Dunbartonshire and St Andrew's Secondary in Glasgow received four and three "excellent" gradings respectively (the remaining gradings being "very good").
Certain common threads in approaches to CfE have been revealed: clear pathways for pupils with different abilities leading from the broad general education to the senior phase; a close involvement with their local community; and a strong emphasis on improving the quality of teaching (see panel).
Judith Jardine, head of Hightae for 30 years, who is class-committed two- and-a-half days a week, told TESS that the size of a school did not prevent it delivering CfE. "There are challenges in every school, no matter whether they are big, small or medium-sized."
The HMI who inspected Hightae was impressed by the high level of leadership and responsibility for organising their own learning tasks afforded to pupils, said Mrs Jardine.
The school's links with its community had also impressed the inspector, she said.
Local people teach life skills to pupils, from baking to woodwork. Pupils produce a community newsletter, which has taught children how to ask open questions and given them a real-life context for literacy and ICT work.
WHAT THE INSPECTORS LIKED
Bishopbriggs Academy headteacher Gordon Moulsdale identified the following:
- Prioritising pastoral care so that teachers really know their pupils.
- Focus on literacy across learning.
- Embedding a real pride in the school.
- Raising teaching and learning, including a whole-school approach to "assessment is for learning".
- Tracking of attainment.
- Provision of vocational courses and more pathways.
- High take-up of wider achievement opportunities, such as the Duke of Edinburgh's Award.
- International education.
St Andrew's Secondary headteacher Gerry Lyons identified:
- A clear plan with a clear rationale going from S1-6.
- A focus on raising attainment.
- S1-3 pupils can make choices within the eight curriculum areas, but can revisit decision.
- All S4 pupils will sit the new National qualifications in 2014, but thereafter, there will be three clear pathways: pupils will sit six Highers, studying them over S4 and S5, bypassing Nationals; pupils will sit seven National 4s or 5s in S4, moving on to next level in S5; pupils will follow more vocational routes, involving partnership working with colleges and business.
- Focus on assessment and recording.
- Focus on teaching methodologies.
- Partnership working with parents.
Photo: Staff and pupils at Hightae Primary, Lockerbie, celebrate their success. Photo credit: Dumfrie and Galloway Standard
Original headline: Five `excellent' gradings for one 11-pupil primary