Axe falls as HMI slates school

10th October 2003 at 01:00
Senior managers in Fife have stepped in at Buckhaven High to begin a root-and-branch overhaul after the 1,100-pupil secondary received one of the worst-ever inspection reports.

Inspectors this week dished out 15 fairs and two unsatisfactories in their indicators of quality. Attainment from S1 to S4 comes in for particular criticism.

One of the unsatisfactory verdicts is reserved for the headteacher, John Lusby, who left the school last spring on long-term sick leave. Mr Lusby quit early in the inspection. A significant minority of parents complained about the school's leadership and reputation while teachers have publicly reported unrest at the direction of the school before the head left.

Aware of the imminent findings, the new management regime in the council promoted the depute head, David McClure, to acting rector and put in Jim Bellshaw, senior manager and former head of Beath High, to work alongside him.

Mr McClure said: "The culture of the school has shown significant change since the inspectors visited back in May this year. Everything we do is firmly geared towards improvement. We have been adopting new practices, bringing in successful initiatives from other schools and pooling experience from the education service with input from pupils, staff, our school board and other agencies."

The school has worked on improving discipline, cracked down on its dress code - led by senior pupils - and strengthened its management support.

In a scathing report, HMI highlights important weaknesses in school climate and relationships and in the quality of accommodation and facilities.

At the time of the inspection, several departments had long-term vacancies which had significantly affected teaching in maths, geography and religious education. Lack of supply staff meant that teachers were unable to attend professional development courses. Posts are now filled, according to the authority.

HMI says there is much to do to improve overall attainment. This was fair in the first two years, unsatisfactory in third and fourth years and fair at S5 and S6. Standards were well below national averages. "Overall the school performed less well than other schools with similar characteristics," inspectors state.

In English, attainment was unsatisfactory at all stages and only marginally better in maths where S5-S6 work was good. Standards in business studies were fair up to S4 and good in the senior school. It was a similar story in music with only S5-S6 attainment classed as good.

Too often lessons were interrupted by poor behaviour, with S3-S4 pupils most to blame. However, it was not all gloom. Support for special educational needs was very good, while guidance was strong. Staff were also committed to making improvements.

Roger Stewart, Fife's education director, said he was aware of concerns when he took over early this year and quickly began to assemble a new team, a move that coincided with HMI's inspection. Other staff have also moved on.

Mr Stewart said: "It is going to require sustained support from the authority but we have confidence in the acting head. The new management team have been taking steps to address the issues."

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