Rolls soar at merged city schools

3rd May 1996 at 01:00
Councils faced with mounting protests over school closures are pressing their case that merging schools with low rolls can transform the pattern of secondary education even in the most disadvantaged city communities.

The campaign to press long-term educational and social advantages comes in reply to increasing pressure on councils from parents and opposition councillors.

Ken Corsar, director of education in Glasgow, which must close five secondaries to balance its budget, points to St Andrew's Secondary in the east end of the city. which merged with St Gregory's Secondary in 1991 to avoid a huge repair bill and to bring course options in line with larger secondaries.

"When you have a merger you can start afresh and put in a new headteacher and new attitudes," Mr Corsar maintains. "Bruce Malone has provided a lot of the drive and impetus. He has created a new team and instilled a new identity for the school."

Mr Malone, who has been appointed to the Government's task force on underachievement, has taken the combined roll of St Andrew's to 1,017. "Over the past four years we have had a significant and continuing increase," he says. "We have taken youngsters from our seven partner primaries but now 18 send to us." Not all placing requests from parents will be successful this year.

Mr Malone pays tribute to staff, parents and pupils for pulling together. Fears that pupils from rival areas would not mix have proved groundless. It may be tempting fate but the walls have no graffiti. The former Strathclyde Region provided extra equipment and cash for adapting buildings but Mr Malone argues that raising parent and pupil expectations is a key feature of the revamped school.

In came uniform, close supervision of homework and what he terms "good discipline". Supported study schemes and Easter study camps have proved successful. Academically, the school's performance has risen beyond expectations, pushing it into the first division in the city.

In Aberdeen, a similar tale of transformation has taken place at St Machar Academy, which replaced Hilton Academy and Powis Academy, where rolls were plummeting. Today the combined roll is at its maximum of 1,200 and pupils on placing requests will be turned away.

Len Taylor, St Machar's headteacher, says: "We have had a sustained and slow improvement in academic performance. Equally, we have been improving the ethos of the school and looking at each pupil individually," he said.

Mr Taylor is currently interviewing all 240 parents whose children are in their final year at local primaries, encouraging them to sign a "partnership agreement", an idea close to Labour's compact with parents. He also runs Saturday morning surgeries. "The idea is to get parents on the side of the school and we have got to make the school approachable and accessible."

In Edinburgh, Elizabeth Maginnis, the city council's education convener and former Lothian convener, pushed through the closure of 300-pupil Ainslie Park in her own ward and merged it with the larger and more popular Broughton High despite local protests.

Mrs Maginnis says: "Particularly for the smaller secondary, merging into the larger secondary means a bigger social mix and ability range which is the foundation of a comprehensive school." A wider range of subjects has brought a richer educational experience, fostered by the more competitive atmosphere in the larger secondary.

Broughton High, meanwhile, found "a greater humanity and a better understanding about working with social and educational problems".

"Kids at Ainslie Park who came into Broughton performed on average about three Standard grade levels better than at Ainslie Park," Mrs Maginnis says. "The merger has been academically as well as socially successful."

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