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Education / Council starts work on improvement plan for Sandwick school after poor report

SHETLAND Islands Council will “continue to work hard” on making sure improvements are being implemented at Sandwick Junior High School following a less than satisfactory inspection report.

The school was deemed ‘weak’ in three out of four categories after an Education Scotland visit in May.

The other category – ensuring wellbeing, equality and inclusion – was deemed to be satisfactory.

‘Weak’ ranks at number five out of six on Education Scotland’s scale, with only ‘unsatisfactory’ below it.

The nursery received a ‘weak’ rating in leadership of change and satisfactory in the other three categories.

Inspectors, however, highlighted a number of strengths, including that staff across the school are caring and nurturing in their interactions with children and young people, creating a positive and welcoming learning environment.

They also said “a range of partners, including health professionals, are involved in working effectively with staff to meet the needs of pupils who require additional support with their learning”.

Areas of improvement include leadership, the structure of the curriculum in broad general education and approaches to learning, teaching and assessment.

Inspectors said that children’s progress in key learning strands like literacy, English, reading, writing and numeracy was “weak”.

Chairman of the council’s education and families committee George Smith said uncertainty over possible school closures in the past and recruitment and retention issues have contributed to challenges for the Sandwick school.

Education and families committee chairman George Smith.

Additional support has been allocated by children’s services to help Sandwick’s leadership team make the required improvements, with inspectors due to make a return within nine months.

Inspectors noted that due to a “considerable period of change in its senior leadership team over recent years” staff at the school have “not received sufficiently clear leadership and guidance around a number of key strategic issues”.

Education Scotland said the school is now in a more stable position as regards its leadership team and staffing.

“I recognise that all those involved with the school and who care deeply about it may well be disappointed with the conclusions reached by Education Scotland contained in their inspection report,” Smith said.

“It is the case that Sandwick Junior High School has faced some significant challenges over the past few years, not helped by the uncertainty around potential school closures across Shetland during the last council. The school has also had problems recruiting and retaining teaching staff, especially in the secondary department.

“Added to that, the last few years has seen a number of changes in the delivery of education with the continued bedding in of Curriculum for Excellence and new assessments and qualifications, so there are a number of factors which have come together to lead to this inspection report.”

Smith said he was “very pleased” to see a number of strengths highlighted by inspectors.

“This is reassuring but no one should be in any doubt about the need to address the areas highlighted for improvement. To that end, staff both in the school and within children’s Services have already started work on an improvement plan for Sandwick, with additional support being provided at all levels. I welcome this and would thank everyone concerned for their efforts.

“As I say, the inspectors have identified a number of areas where they require improvements before their return visit next year, and we will continue to work hard to make sure those are in place and I shall seek to ensure the school has the resources needed to move forward positively.”

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart, who is the Liberal Democrats’ education spokesperson at Holyrood, said it was overall a “very disappointing” report.

“Understanding how the school reached this point, combined with the input of additional resources and rigorous planning for the future, will help ensure that constructive progress can be made,” she said.

“It should be noted that the inspection highlights some strengths, for example, staff and partners have a caring and nurturing approach with children and young people, and have created a positive and welcoming learning environment.

“Parents and carers must have confidence in the education their children receive and I am reassured that action has been taken to address the weaknesses identified in this report.”