Rothesay Academy has performed one of the turnarounds of all turnarounds in secondary school performance. Only 9 per cent of the year group in 2004 managed five or more Credit passes at Standard grade: this year that rose to 45 per cent.
Exactly a year ago, Peter Peacock, Education Minister, slammed Argyll and Bute Council for allowing the school to slip into serious decline and used its poor performance to underline the Scottish Executive's drive for tougher powers of intervention over failing schools and local authorities.
Mr Peacock's harsh public remarks followed an inspectorate report which condemned the island secondary. It had 16 fairs and three unsatisfactories in the list of performance indicators.
This week, a follow-up HMIE inspection confirms that the exam results were no fluke. "There were signs of improvement in many aspects, including in the quality of learning and teaching, standards of attainment and pupils'
behaviour," it states.
Across the major areas highlighted by the inspectors, "effective steps" are being taken to address the serious failings identified 18 months ago.
Ken Moncrieff, the headteacher who took over last September, is said by inspectors to show "strong commitment to improving the school" and is "having a positive impact on its work". Mr Moncrieff was previously senior depute at Oban High.
The head praises staff, pupils and parents for pulling together and refocusing after last year's humiliation. Many parents had lost faith in the school and discipline had broken down, he says.
"We began with classroom management and assertive discipline, introducing consistency across the school. The staff felt empowered to deal with issues. We also raised expectations and the name of the game is refocusing on work," Mr Moncrieff said.
Teaching approaches were revised with help from the local authority's new quality improvement team. Sharper target-setting was introduced, backed by regular monitoring and evaluation. Heavy investment in ICT, such as interactive whiteboards, freshened classroom teaching.
Stewart Shaw, depute head who was in charge for 10 months before Mr Moncrieff's arrival, is naturally delighted with this week's HMIE verdict and the performance of last year's S4 pupils. The average exam performance between 1999 and 2003 turned in around 20 per cent of the year group with five-plus Credits but that fell alarmingly in 2004, a year group Mr Shaw knew was certain to underperform.
The 2004 group was always regarded as strong but Mr Shaw describes its performance as "just amazing". He admits: "Good for us would have been 36 per cent."
Elsewhere, 88 per cent of pupils got five-plus General passes while, for the first time, there were no Foundation awards in home economics, English, physical education and German. In art, there was a 100 per cent pass rate in Intermediate 2 courses.
So what turned things around?
Mr Shaw comments: "Staff were hurt by the inspectors' report. They were stunned and downhearted but they realised they had a job to do and were capable of doing it.
"Staff were concerned about behaviour and that set the ball rolling. The big difference is that we have embedded assertiveness training in the culture of the school and there is a willingness among staff to address it.
It's the staff who decided to change the culture and ethos of the school.
"The number of referrals to PTs and from PTs to heads of house have dropped dramatically. Staff respond to having more responsibility and have an immediate point of contact with parents. They can write to parents if there is a problem in their classroom. It's an early warning system."
As inspectors also point out, learning aims are now shared with pupils. The report states: "Many teachers were helping pupils to recall and build on earlier learning through good use of questioning at the start of lessons.
The pace of learning has improved in most lessons, where teachers planned varied sets of activities for pupils to complete within given time-scales.
Most teachers were providing effective summaries of lessons to emphasise key points."
The task now is to maintain the revival, Mr Shaw says. He is looking forward to better performances at Higher this year and strengthened relationships with parents in a small community.
At first, Mr Shaw confesses there were difficulties with the inspectors'
new support roles, but that situation had eased. "We have had a huge amount of support from HMIE to bring things forward," he says.