EDUCATION chiefs have scrapped a proposal to turn Castlebrae High into an annexe of Portobello High and announced they would draft in a national team of experts to revitalise the embattled secondary.
The seven-strong “A-Team” of experts will include a range of specialists with a track-record of turning around failing schools. They will advise a new working group of councillors, education officers, teachers and parent representatives on how the struggling school’s performance can be turned around after it was nearly closed over poor exam results and falling rolls.
The move comes after council leaders revealed in March that they would consult on a proposal to keep Castlebrae open as an annexe, despite official recommendations that the school be shut.
Education bosses today confirmed that option had been dumped over fears it would mire the Craigmillar school in another lengthy consultation process.
Councillor Cathy Fullerton, who will chair the working group, said: “What’s important now is to concentrate all our efforts on the future of Castlebrae and for all interested parties to work together for the greater good of the school and wider community.”
The expert panel includes education consultants, researchers, policy specialists and former teachers from across Scotland. Among its proposed members are Brian Macalinden – credited with boosting exam results at Glasgow’s Castle-milk High – and Curriculum for Excellence architect Keir Bloomer.
Plans for the group’s creation come as education chiefs take increasingly bold steps to boost schooling in Craigmillar.
Last month, the Evening News revealed that council leaders would look at turning a replacement secondary for Castlebrae High into a centre of scientific excellence by drawing on the expertise of researchers based at the city’s BioQuarter campus.
“One of the key recommendations is the setting up of a working group, which will take advice from a panel of experts, to develop a long-term improvement plan,” said Cllr Fullerton. “A number of short-term measures are also being proposed, such as strengthening the parent council and improving wider community access to the school.”
The new plans have been welcomed by parents and campaigners who fought to keep Castlebrae open. Kev Finlay, chair of Save the Brae, said: “It’s a step in the right direction and the community has got to take a lift.
“The council has shown they’re committed, now the community should show its commitment by returning their kids to the local school.”
Melanie Main, education spokeswoman for the Capital’s Green group, said the new plans indicated Castlebrae High had a “great future”.
“First and foremost, we need to make sure that the community and parents in Craigmillar know of the great work and high standard of teaching and learning at the school,” she said.
Education leader Paul Godzik said: “There is a need to provide stability in the school, and focus on delivering improvements.”
THE KEY CHALLENGES AHEAD
SCHOOLS improvement expert Dr Terry Wrigley said any plan would have to focus on a range of key areas:
1: “A lot of thought will have to be given to the curriculum so that pupils’ skills in literacy and numeracy are developed, but in meaningful ways so they get the satisfaction of problem solving and dealing with real-life challenges.”
2: “Connecting up very strongly with local parents and involving them much more with the work of the school will be crucial.”
3: “There will have to be positive, in-depth discussion with parents and potential parents, and those who are taking their children elsewhere, to find out exactly what it is they are looking for in a school.”
4: “Parents are ambitious for their children but often do not know how to help them. Boosting study support – using volunteers or parents with pupils who are not able to get the help they need from relatives – will be very important for children suffering the disadvantage of poverty.”
5: “The turnaround cannot just happen with youngsters in the 12-16 age group. There needs to be a comprehensive schooling programme from birth to adulthood, working to inspire an interest in books from the ages of one and two onwards.”
THE DREAM TEAM?
PROPOSED members who have agreed in principle to join the Castlebrae expert panel:
1. Ross Martin: of the Centre for Scottish Public Policy;
2. Keir Bloomer: former leader of the Association of Directors of Education;
3. Alan Mclean: former principal psychologist at Glasgow City Council;
4. Dr Terry Wrigley: editor of international journal Improving Schools;
5. Brian Macalinden: credited with boosting exam results while headteacher at Castlemilk High in Glasgow;
6. Lindsey Watt: headteacher at Castleview Primary School;
7. Dr Rowena Arshad: head of Moray House School of Education (or her nominee).