Falkirk Council’s head of education says he is confident that last year’s poor inspection results at Slamannan Primary won’t be repeated.
Either in the Braes village or in any other schools in the district.
Members of the council’s Scrutiny Committee were told that not only had changes swept the school – the central team in charge of education was now much more proactive in looking for problems and would no longer wait for inspectors to identify them.
David Mackay told members of the council’s scrutiny committee that parents at the primary and its associated nursery had been happy with the quality of care and education their children were receiving.
However, an inspection report in 2018 had criticised the school for not pushing the children enough and in particular leaving Primary 7 children unprepared for high school.
Mr Mackay told members of the committee that his team shared responsibility for the failure.
“It was a miss on our part – we were not on the ball,” he told councillors.
“At that time, I had no intelligence to suggest there was a problem at Slamannan. The parents were supportive of the school and continue to be so.”
Parents, in fact, were so supportive that they raised concerns about the HMI report, saying it did not reflect their experience.
Mr McKay said: “They were looking for children to be supported, cared for and nurtured, which they were – but the pace and challenge the children were getting was not at the level it needed to be.
“Our young people had more in the tank and more to give and it was up to the school to be pushing them in their learning.”
Councillors heard that a new headteacher, Lorna Hart, had been in post since January and was working closely with a principal teacher who was a specialist in teacher training as well as the central education department.
Prior to her arrival, two headteachers had been seconded to oversee change in the school and establish training and support for all the classroom teachers.
Mr Mackay explained that when the school had been given the poor rating by inspectors he was newly in post with just one other person in his team – which oversees learning throughout the district’s schools.
Since then, he assured them, the central team has recruited some excellent staff and become much more effective in ensuring schools are keeping up to date and working together to get the best practice throughout the area.
They now proactively go out into the district’s schools to examine their teaching methods.
In June this year, the HMI inspectors found that improvements had been made but the pace of change needed to pick up so there will be a return visit in the future.
Mr McKay said he was slightly disappointed it was a different inspector who may not have appreciated how much work had been done.
Councillors were anxious to know that children were now being prepared properly for high school.
They were assured that the work of Susanne McCafferty, headteacher at Bainsford Primary, and Ghislaine Tait of Moray Primary had offered extra support, with a focus on ensuring children were ready for high school.
“They worked with classroom teachers and parents and families as well as engaging with Falkirk High School to make it a positive step for the children,” said Mr McKay.
Councillor David Grant told Mr Mackay: “I think you were a wee bit hard on yourself. All the parents were happy, all the teachers were happy. The question is – how do you know this couldn’t happen again?”
Mr Mackay said: “Every single colleague in education is doing their best for our kids – that’s never been in question.
“I’ve now got an extremely strong central team and managers working throughout the council working on curriculum development and teaching.”
He added: “We have also been visiting schools regularly and have a very rigorous programme of visits. We’re looking at good practice and asking schools what support they need.
“We’re in a stronger position to know what’s happening in schools but also they now have the confidence to come to us.
“There is a lot of good practice in Falkirk and I see it as an improving picture.”