Northfield Academy has earned a reputation as a beacon of socially inclusive, community-based secondary education. David Henderson examines how, while Raymond Ross investigates some of its more innovative project work
A new hairdressing salon was opened in Aberdeen last week - at Northfield Academy. Believed to be the first of its kind in the country, the salon is initially training 10 S3 girls in the arts and sciences of hair perming, colouring, cutting and styling as well as in the basics of make-up and manicure.
The state-of-the-art salon - complete with two backwashes (sinks to you and me), 10 mirrored island units, a beauty therapy and nail station and a reception desk - has been designed and supplied by Salon Services, a commercial company whose support and expertise the school has found "invaluable".
"Hairdressing was simply the most requested vocational course," says assistant headteacher Susan Alley.
"At first, the idea was for the girls to go to Aberdeen College to train but their four salons couldn't cope with the demand. They already have more than 100 students on their waiting list. So in May we decided to create our own from scratch.
"The day I spent all afternoon talking about backwashes and island units, I realised this was a radical departure for the school."
The girls (eventually to be joined by any boys who are interested) will work towards an SQA Level 2 in hairdressing.
"The idea is to do year one of the course over two years, the students coming for two half-days per week," says Rod Watson, Aberdeen College's curriculum manager for hairdressing, beauty therapy and consumer studies, who will deliver the course in the school. "After that, they can complete the SQA course at college or on day release through a salon.
"Even if they don't complete level one, they will still be accredited by the college to the level they reach. It's a progression route into the industry."
For Northfield Academy, says Mrs Alley, the course is "an aspect of the way forward in serving the community". She says the interest has been "amazing".
Within five weeks, the students will be working on models - mostly friends and relations - and, through college placements, they will be able to gain experience in commercial salons in S4.
It is also hoped to start new S4 and S5 pupils next year and to offer day classes to local parents, particularly single mothers, and evening classes.
"It's a new area and a new challenge which gives 14-year-olds something tangible and definite to go for and it helps in general with school-college transition," says Mr Watson.
"It's the start of something big. Our standards are very high, equivalent to an old-fashioned apprenticeship, and you can't knock that".
Aberdeen College's hairdressing department was given a Wella Centre of Excellence Award last year. College principal Rae Angus says: "This is an example of the college's close links and partnerships with local schools. We will be working to provide tuition and opportunities so that pupils can gain high-level professional qualifications after leaving school. While the pupils are being taught, they will be temporary students of the college."
For Northfield Academy's management team, the course is one example of putting the child at the centre of the curriculum.
"It's about taking account of the child's and society's needs," says headteacher Tom Robertson. "We're doing what every school should be doing - addressing the needs of the pupil."