James Gillespie’s High named top school of 2015

Headteacher 'Donald Macdonald celebrates the news with some S6 pupils. Picture: Neil Hanna
Headteacher 'Donald Macdonald celebrates the news with some S6 pupils. Picture: Neil Hanna
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James Gillespie’s High has been named Scottish State School of the Year 2015.

The Marchmont school has been awarded the prestigious title by the Sunday Times Schools Guide, seen as the definitive list of the best primaries and secondaries in the UK.

Although it was not ranked at the top of the exam results league table – a title held by Jordanhill School in Glasgow – James Gillespie’s was 
considered to be the best overall state school in Scotland.

It moved up eight places in the league table to rank seventh – the school’s best ever 
position.

Last year, 78 per cent of its leavers gained five or more National 5s (or equivalent) at grades A-C, while 59 per cent left with a minimum of five good Highers.

And 26 per cent gained at least two Advanced Higher at grade C or above, bettered by just three other schools.

All of these academic achievements were obtained during a period of upheaval for both staff and pupils whilst a massive redevelopment of the school was carried out. Headteacher Donald Macdonald said: “It’s been a challenging time for us but these results were achieved whilst we were in the middle of a building site so it’s quite remarkable.

“Exam results would be a main factor [in being named Scottish State School of the Year] but also they look at the other achievements of the school.

“Having said that, these things go hand in hand – schools who do well academically are full of youngsters who are really busy with music, sport or Duke of Edinburgh.”

Since 2013, Gillespie’s – the only Scottish high school to get a mention in Tatler magazine’s 2015 list of top UK state secondaries – has operated in two campuses, with senior pupils walking almost a mile between them for classes.

Earlier this year, Gillespie’s opened its new teaching block, known as the Malala Building, as part of a £42.8 million redevelopment of the Marchmont campus.

Pupils decided to name the teaching block in honour of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who survived being shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in Pakistan in 2012. She was targeted because of her work promoting girls’ education.

The new facility houses the main teaching area and 
features 57 classroom spaces with full-height glazing to maximise daylight and views.

Next August, the sports department – to be named the Eric Liddell Building – will welcome pupils, with its 25-metre swimming pool, gym and full-size basketball court.

The new performing arts building with its 300-seat theatre – which will be named after the school’s most famous former pupil, Muriel Spark – will also open, completing the redevelopment.

James Gillespie’s follows in the footsteps of Boroughmuir High, which was awarded the Scottish State School of the Year title in 2012. This year Boroughmuir ranked behind Gillespie’s at number 13 in the league table.

Education leader Councillor Paul Godzik said: “Congratulations to all the staff and pupils at James Gillespie’s for achieving this award – the second time Edinburgh schools have received this accolade.

“It demonstrates the high quality education on offer to pupils in the Capital, reinforced with impressive exam results across the city.”

The Evening News revealed in October that Gillespie’s was one of two secondary schools in the Capital – Along with Trinity Academy – ordered to make savings after it amassed deficits worth £413,000.