Back from the brink;Musselburgh Grammar;Interview;Headteacher Terry Christie

10th September 1999 at 01:00
Musselburgh Grammar made headlines last term as inspectors found gang fights and poor discipline.

Raymond Ross visits the school and talks to headteacher Terry Christie about what steps he's taken photgraphs ian munronewsflash ".

culture of violence and bullying", "a terrifying place where gangs fight in the corridors and the safety of pupils and staff is constantly at risk". This was Musselburgh Grammar School, in East Lothian as described by the press in June, after HM inspectors published a report on the school.

Walking into it two months later, the impression could not be more different.

The new fence along the north perimeter may give the sense of a school under siege, but a spanking new reception area and an open, friendly atmosphere in the corridors and classrooms tell a different story.

The fence and reception area are just two of 35 actions taken by the school and East Lothian council in response to the critical care and welfare inspection which took place in January and February this year and prompted an anonymous Scottish Office source to describe the school as "the worst ever" in Scotland in terms of pupil behaviour.

Other security measures include "one way" entry doors with push pads, so that once the school day has started access can only be obtained via reception. The council also plans to install closed-circuit television cameras on the outside of the building by the new year.

Walking around the school and visiting the plush science labs (installed before the inspection), the state-of-the-art dining area and the new integrated support base, you see evidence of the pound;1 million that has been spent in the past two years in an effort to raise the ethos of the school.

In classroom after classroom, pupils and teachers look hard at work in what feels like a safe, secure and positive environment.

The Food Factory, the attractive, fast-food-style dining area - named by an S2 pupil after a school competition - has proved so popular that the number of pupils taking lunch in school has risen by more than 60 per cent since the start of this term, says headteacher Terry Christie.

Toilets - lambasted in the inspectors' report - have been painted, pupils' work adorns many of the corridors and a new S6 common room with three computers has been opened.

There is still litter in some of the corridors, which cry out for a lick of paint, and in one class a pupil was being chastised for resetting a computer program. But the prevailing atmosphere was cheery and cheering.

There has been no gang violence since March, says Mr Christie, because the S4 pupils involved have now left.

The majority of pupils are in uniform. As we tour the school, one senior boy is pulled up in the corridor by Mr Christie for not adhering to the dress code - the policy is being pushed hard in response to the inspectors' criticisms of school ethos.

Mr Christie knows his pupils by name and can immediately give you details of academic performance and behaviour.

Most of the young people we bump into give him an immediate "Hi, sir!" and are happy to go in for a bit of friendly banter. Good behaviour and attainment by pupils will now be entered regularly into a logbook by the head.

A separate log of incidents of child protection will also be kept in the school safe. This was requested by the inspectors although it is not a statutory requirement.

Like the school, Mr Christie, 56, does not give the impression of a headteacher under siege, despite HMI criticism of his leadership. He has been Musselburgh Grammar's headteacher for 13 years and admits to being "hurt badly" by the inspectors' report which he regards as "an unrepresentative snapshot".

He is buoyed up by this year's examination results: 35 pupils gained three Highers, the school's "best ever" attainment.

"The inspectors came at the worst time, in the worst week in the school's history," he says. "Their job was difficult, but our results speak for themselves, though there are certain criticisms we ... take on the chin."

Among these criticisms was the perceived need to monitor pupils' attainment more efficiently.

"Too much senior management time was spent dealing with behaviour problems," he agrees. "But we have fully addressed this problem with a new referral system which means that pupils who are misbehaving go directly to the new assignment room - where a promoted member of staff is always on duty - instead of those who misbehave being interviewed first by the senior management team.

"The integrated support base has been set up to deal with pupils whose problems hinder them from being integrated into the mainstream, and now there is much more liaison between the learning support staff and guidance (who meet weekly) and between learning support and subject departments (who meet fortnightly)."

Extra teachers have been employed to reduce the load on guidance staff, so that they can spend more time with individual pupils on target setting and work on behaviour management in order to reduce the number of temporary exclusions - 60 to 70 last year.

"Learning support now has the equivalent of five full-time teachers. We have an extra English and mathematics teacher and members of the management team will attend departmental meetings at least four times a year in the departments for which they are responsible, to monitor and evaluate development plans and departmental targets.

"More questions will be asked of pupils, parents and teachers and there will be regular classroom observation by promoted members of staff.

"This is a situation in which teachers can feel threatened, but the majority of our staff have welcomed it."

The action plan was seen by all the teachers and approved by "the overwhelming majority", says Mr Christie, before it went to East Lothian council for approval this week.

"A successful headteacher has to take his staff with him by consulting widely," he explains. "You need to have a vision of where you want to go and our vision is summed up in our motto: Striving for excellence, caring for all."

Alan Blackie, director of education at East Lothian council, says: "Many of the points made in the action plan were actually going to be put in place irrespective of the HMI care and welfare report.

"These were actions we had already planned to take, based on our own assessment of the situation at Musselburgh Gammar school.

"We are very pleased with the progress being made so far and the school has our full backing."

The school is appointing a community links officer, a volunteer teacher who will promote links with parents and the wider community.

The local police officer will meet guidance staff at least monthly and the headteacher at least six times a year, and will address personal and social education classes on issues of law and order.

Parents' meetings are being increased from five to seven.

The parent-teacher association now has 17 parents heading it and Mr Christie is proud of it.

Despite the inspectors' criticising a lack of parental involvement, Mr Christie claims his PTA "would be the envy of most schools".

The number of pupils on the pupil council has been increased from 12 to 17 and it will meet monthly.

Senior pupils are also to be far more involved in the running of the school.

A pairing system which had senior pupils helping the juniors with reading is being extended and older pupils will now be expected to walk potentially vulnerable S1 children to and from school. S6 students will also help in the library during lunch and after school.

"Although it is too early to judge the impact of many of these developments, we're proud of the job we're doing here, and our staff have always been united," Mr Christie says.

There was, he added, never "defeatism" among staff and resignation did not enter his mind.

"The care and welfare report only made us more united and more determined to take the school forward" Mr Christie enthused.

"With the continued support of the council, we believe the action plan will have a genuine impact on the life of the school."


Steps already implemented by August 1999: * High fence on the north perimeter wall. * Entry doors to be made "one way". * Main door security system with a receptionist. * Integrated support base to be set up. * Discipline system to be revised. * Sixth year common room to be provided. * Boys and girls toilets redecorated. * Dining room to be upgraded. * Dress code to be relaunched. * Pupils' work to be displayed on walls. * More parents' meetings. * More pupils on pupil council. * Community links officer appointed. * Extra teachers to take load off guidance. * Community police officer to be more involved in the school. * All child protection incidents to be recorded by head and kept in the school safe.

From October 1999:. * Headteacher to meet monthly with East Lothian quality assurance staff and twice a year with the head of education to review his performance in implementing the action plan.

TES scotland plusJseptember 10J1999 The new perimeter fence does not denote a school under siege Musselburgh students last term. The majority now wear uniform ACTIONPLAN Musselburgh - pic of headteacher and details of security measures and evidence of improvements around the school

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