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Education / Council confident inspectors will be satisfied by changes at Sandwick school

An image of Sandwick Junior High School taken from uphill. Photo © Mike Pennington (cc-by-sa/2.0)

EDUCATION officials are confident that inspectors returning to Sandwick later this year will find a rejuvenated school which has moved on from its poor report.

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

An improvement plan was put in place at the school in a bid to turn around its fortunes ahead of a return visit, which is due to take place before the end of June.

In a briefing to local media on Monday, Shetland Islands Council’s director of children’s services Helen Budge said staff have “absolutely embraced” the changes they have been asked to work on.

“They [inspectors] will see young folk in pupils in the school that are enthusiastic and that are really keen to learn,” she said.

“And I think they will see the senior management that have done a huge amount in the past year to drive forward an improvement plan that has meant that the points of action that the inspectors identified will have been taken forward.”

An item on the school and its inspection was featured at a meeting of the council’s education and families committee on Monday, but the discussion was held in private – with the public and the media excluded.

Education and families committee chairman George Smith.

Committee chairman George Smith, who lives in Sandwick, said the item was held in private due to the potential for individuals to be identified.

“There was a bit of a looking back, looking at what the reasons where, then much of the focus and much of the interest of the committee was about what the lessons learnt were and how we’re going to move this forward,” he explained.

The lessons learned, meanwhile, have been used to strengthen the offering across all of Shetland’s schools.

Acting quality improvement manager Robin Calder said this has involved visits to schools across the isles.

“As a quality improvement service we’ve also reflected on how we can strengthen our systems and process so that we’ve got an even clearer handle on what our schools’ strengths are and what our schools’ areas for development are,” he said.

“One example of that is a programme of team improvement visits that are now in place where we spend up to three or four days in a school with a team of school managers.”

These visits have included discussions around learning and teaching, attainment and school leadership.

Smith added that “we can spend as much time as we want raking over what’s been, but the most important thing is moving forward from where we were to where we want to get”.

Children's services director Helen Budge.Children’s services director Helen Budge.

“Where we want to get, I guess, is all our pupils being able to achieve their full potential, so we need to make sure we have systems in place that’s going to allow that to happen,” the south mainland councillor said.

“Some of that is around making sure that there are adequate resources. We know that rural education throughout Scotland…it’s fragile. It’s difficult to maintain the school estate with the realities of trying to staff that, and the impacts if you lose key members of staff.

“There’s no easy answers, but it’s about trying to look further ahead.”

Some of the key factors behind Sandwick’s report was said to be down to uncertainty over possible school closures in the past and recruitment and retention issues.

The junior high school – which also features early learning – is now fully staffed, and last week an event was held where new values and aims were presented in collaboration with pupils, staff and parents alongside a fresh logo.

It runs with the theme of being “strong together – reaching high”, with respect, equality, achievement, creativity and happiness part of the new vision.

“There’s a real sense of optimism that the challenges and difficulties are behind the school, and it’s about moving forward, it’s about working closer together and being clear what the school is about,” Calder said.

“There’s been some really innovative work being done by the school in this area of vision, values and aims.”

The staff, meanwhile, have had to face the scrutiny of the inspection report head-on, as well as the public fallout from its subsequent media coverage.

Calder said staff have been supported by the SIC through the process, but he suggested the adversity has in fact brought the team closer together.

“The staff have been remarkably resilient, and we’ve supported the staff really carefully, and provided support mechanisms where appropriate,” he said.

“[It has] really brought the staff together. Whilst it has been a challenging process for staff, and we can’t understate that, on the whole the morale is good.”

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021