St Columba's High has won an Ethos award, but for head Dan McGinty, this is just the beginning. Eleanor Caldwell looks at how one school created its unique environment
Accepting the 1999 Ethos award from the Scottish Schools Ethos Network, the headteacher of St Columba's High in Perth likened the development of a positive ethos to a journey on which the school had just embarked.
"Developing a culture of praise" is the ongoing target, says Dan McGinty.
A number of issues were key factors in the school's success, in particular a positive behaviour management scheme, initiated last year.
Posters with sets of rules and five levels of rule-breaking "consequences" are currently displayed in all classrooms.
"It's hard to miss the posters in every room. We had to memorise one rule a week," says sixth-year pupil Karen Davidson.
Many of the pupils appreciate the consistency of approach from teachers, and that they're not getting into trouble for something in one class but not in another.
Prior to the introduction of the new system, not all teachers could quote the school rules, says assistant head Steve Lafferty. Now they're "all speaking the same language" and the supply teachers find it helpful too. The number of badly behaved pupils has decreased.
"We've got everyone on board," says Lafferty. "We've created the right conditions in the classroom for learning and teaching, and it shouldn't be difficult to praise good behaviour."
Praise Postcards for consistently excellent behaviour in class at bronze, silver and gold levels are sent directly by post to parents and are very well received.
A successful "buddy'' scheme for S1 entrants with S5 and S6 pupils has also led to a change in atmosphere in the school. Everyone knows each other,so people are more friendly. It's a similar atmosphere to a primary school.
One of the virtues of St Columba's, with a roll of just 400, is that "you can appreciate the good things you have in small schools," says Stephen McCabe (S6).
Senior-junior pupil partnerships have been reinforced by a thriving paired reading programme run by the learning support department. With twice-weekly 20-minute slots, S5 pupils work with younger pupils with particular needs.
Principal teacher Angie Calder says: "If the relationship works, it makes reading a positive and pleasant experience. We've even had one senior pupil with dyslexia, who himself needed help, coming back to work on the programme."
The student council plays a key role in the "working together" ethos of St Columba's, and has led to a number of changes, such as a wider range of sandwiches available at lunchtime and a redecorated school hall. A volunteer decorating team, drawn from the school's 70 Duke of Edinburgh award pupils, carried out the work.
A new school garden is another product of the co-operative working spirit in St Columba's. A photographic record of the work, involving students from Perth College, formed part of the school's submission for the ethos award. A colourful mural is now planned as part of the transformation of the school environment, which Dan McGinty stresses is vital to developing the school's ethos.
St Columba's has been running a weekly study support programme for the past five years. "On Wednesday afternoons, we generally have anything from 50 to 80 pupils working here," says senior maths teacher Ian Young, who co-ordinates the scheme with his colleague, Pauline Logan. "More than half of S4 and S5 attend regularly."
An Easter school which started this year regularly attracted 30-40 pupils. Offering five half-day sessions, teachers from the school worked on a voluntary basis. "The pupils have real motivation. They're here to work and they are not slow to ask for help. They also appreciate that the staff are coming voluntarily," says Young.
McGinty stresses the key principle of ownership in St Columba's. "This is not my school - it's our's and by that I include myself, the teachers, the pupils and the entire support staff.''