THE FIRST secondary school in Scotland to undergo an unannounced HMI inspection of pupil care and welfare has received what is described as "an outstanding report".
The review of rural Mearns Academy, in Laurencekirk, Aberdeenshire, was carried out by three inspectors and a lay member over a total of five days last October and November.
Maggi Howie, the acting headteacher, said the school was delighted with the findings. "The inspection was very rigorous, but done extremely respectfully, and we were happy to participate. A lot of work has been carried out over the past 10 years to develop a high quality of provision for the care and welfare of our pupils."
The new style of inspection was announced last June by Brian Wilson, the former education minister. It is intended to provide a quick response where concern about pupils has been expressed or, as in the case of Mearns Academy, to identify good practice.
The Government made its move after high-profile allegations of bullying among pupils at the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway and of staff abusing pupils at Donaldson's School for the Deaf in Edinburgh.
Mearns Academy is clearly a different case and the school has been judged "very good", the top mark, in 16 aspects of its welfare regime. These included ethos, partnership with parents and the school board, links with other schools, agencies, employers and the community, and the quality of planning and teaching in personal and social education.
Among the six areas judged to be "good" were the quality of courses or programmes in PSE, the quality of pupils' learning in PSE, the guidance role in monitoring progress and attainment, and staff development and review.
Accommodation and facilities for the care and welfare of pupils were described as "fair", although a move into former primary premises next door will improve matters. No aspect was deemed "unsatisfactory".
The inspectors drew their conclusions following staff briefings, face-to-face interviews with a cross-section of staff, scrutiny of the timetable and the school profile and development plan, class visits. Questionnaires were sent to selected pupils and all parents.
The school's care and welfare approach was initiated by Ms Howie's predecessors. Brian Wood, now head of Hazlehead Academy, Aberdeen, backed the importance of guidance in ensuring that pupils felt secure and valued so they were able to give of their best.
His successor, John Fraser, who recently became head of Craigmount High School, Edinburgh, developed the positive ethos resulting in the good relationships identified by the inspectors.
Mearns Academy's approach to self-evaluation was also singled out for commendation. This has involved senior staff taking the lead and applying performance indicators to check on ethos and guidance.
Pupils, staff and parents are regularly consulted through questionnaires and weekly meetings have brought together management, guidance and learning support staff to discuss pupil welfare.
Much of the inspectors' praise relates to the personal and social education programme, which involves all PSE classes being taught by their own guidance teacher.
As part of HMI's own evaluation programme, Ms Howie has been invited to address a group of inspectors on her school's perception of being descended on out of the blue. This time she has been given prior notice.