A school serving one of Edinburgh's most deprived areas is celebrating the best exam results in its history after the number of pupils achieving Credit passes at Standard grade soared.
In 2008, not a single S4 pupil at the Wester Hailes Education Centre (WHEC) achieved five or more Credit passes at Standard grade; last year the figure rose to 9 per cent, and this year it hit 21 per cent.
The school's senior management team and teachers have attributed the rise in attainment to the introduction of an assertive mentoring scheme for pupils, alongside a programme based on sharing formative assessment techniques and lesson observations through TLCs or Teacher Learning Communities (see panel).
WHEC is confident it can build on its success when it comes to Higher results next year. It has never had more than 10 per cent of its pupils achieve three Highers but is confident that by next August it will have broken through this barrier.
Headteacher Sheila Paton, who has been at the school for a year, said: "For the past three years, the focus has been on our school motto `together we will succeed'. We wanted to change the culture to one of ambition and high expectations."
There has also been a focus on dress code and improving attendance rates. Attendance in S3 in 2007-08 was 78 per cent; last year it was 89 per cent.
Every teacher at WHEC is involved in a TLC and virtually every teacher is responsible for a group of up to 16 students whom they mentor during registration. The time allocated for registration has been extended from 15 minutes of socialising, to 25 minutes of productivity, according to depute head Stuart Heggie. Pupils use the time to reflect on the previous day's lessons and work on their targets. Using the "traffic light" system, they rate their understanding, behaviour and effort either red (major problems), amber (still room for improvement) or green (no problems).
Pupils are interviewed once a month by their mentor, having filled out a self-assessment form, again using the traffic light system to rate their overall performance in each of their subjects. Mentors, meanwhile, come equipped with subject teachers' feedback, which they access via SEEMIS; together pupil and mentor set fresh targets.
The pupil then takes the targets to the relevant subject teachers to discuss how they will be achieved. One or two targets are set every month.
WHEC students deemed capable of achieving five or more Credit passes were assigned to Mr Heggie, who mentored them one evening a week after school.
He said: "Staff did ask, `Could we not introduce the mentoring one year and the Teacher Learning Communities the next?', but unless we had formative assessment the mentors would not have had the information they needed to work with the pupils."
It had been "a huge ask" but staff had been "brilliant", he said.
Mr Heggie has worked at WHEC for almost 30 years and believes the culture is changing. "A pupil will stop me in the corridor now and tell me they have been moved up to Credit level," he said. "Five or six years ago, that would have been unheard of."
Donna Heritage, curriculum leader for maths and numeracy, has also seen a transformation: this year she has 20 pupils sitting Higher maths, up from seven last year. "It makes a difference," she said. "It makes you feel good."
Benefiting from a little tlc
The Teacher Learning Community model, created by Professor Dylan Wiliam of the Institute of Education in London, consists of eight to 10 classroom teachers who have committed themselves to embedding formative assessment techniques in their teaching practice. They support each other to improve through regular meetings to exchange ideas and short observations of each other's lessons.
In Scotland, the Tapestry Partnership has set up the two-year Sustainable Assessment for Learning with Teacher Learning Communities programme. To date, it has worked with 24 local authorities and 12,000 teachers.
An evaluation carried out last year in five local authorities found that 64 per cent of participants were fully convinced TLCs could make a "major contribution" to raising achievement.
Photo credit: Getty
Original headline: Bolt from the blue: school scores a personal best