Scoring goals with bread and butter strikers

9th March 2001 at 00:00
David Henderson reports on the form-defying efforts that have taken a deprived school on a run up the league tables

Barrhead is not quite Newton Mearns and its high school is not renowned in East Renfrewshire for outstanding academic standards. In any league table, it usually props up the other six secondaries.

This year, it is different. Barrhead High has virtually doubled the percentage of leavers entering higher education, rising from 19 per cent to 37 per cent, against a Scottish average of 31 per cent.

Kenny Dykes, the school's headteacher, last week revealed his winning formula to councillors, but added a cautionary warning. "To borrow a phrase from Craig Brown (the Scotland football boss): you're only as good as your last result."

In previous years, the figure for entry to higher education ranged from 20 per cent to 25 per cent - not bad, but below most others. The turnaround, Mr Dykes explains, is down to a combination of factors, with one standing out.

"The bottom line is a bread and butter curriculum. Improving prospects is about Standard grades and Highers and that's about good classes, well taught by committed teachers which lead to qualifications that open doors," he says.

A second factor is ensuring that young people are on top of the "ocean of information" about courses, qualifications and opportunities and what they need to gain entry - all available at the touch of a button.

"The challenge for schools is to train young people to swim in this ocean," Mr Dykes says. Pulling in parents to the raising-attainment agenda has helped. "They need job information as much as youngsters and one of the workshops we run is the whole Higher Still route map," the headstates.

Partnerships with further and higher education are also paying off. Students are encouraged to attend open days and visits, while the school ran its own careers convention with 24 exhibitors from FE and HE.

A "goals programme" boosts ambitions, added to closer matching of students to courses. Twenty-two per cent of leavers go into FE. The partnership agenda extends to the careers service, Mr Dykes says.

"Continuity of personnel is important and we have been able to establish the same person servicing us. It is about talks at personal and social education courses, a presence at the parent workshop, daytime clinics and pupil interviews."

Raising pupil sights is another part of raising attainment, aided by "I can do anything days" to counter stereotyped views of occupations. Male nursery nurses and female firefighters have been brought in on equal opportunities badges. Industry awareness days and work experience add a similar dimension.

These strategies also contribute to a record of one in four pupils going straight into employment. Commendably, no pupil is "allowed" to drift into unemployment and everyone is put under pressure to secure a job or training place, or a course at college or university.

"We have a commitment to after-school care and we continue to send youngsters information about a line of work or training they are interested in. We do not cut the umbilical chord," Mr Dykes says.

All these efforts add up to better prospects all round, although the classroom work comes first, Mr Dykes insists. This session, one in four students is taking five Highers, an unprecedented figure.

Provided they pass, last year's result could be surpassed.

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