Emergency measures after Castlebrae High failures

Head of Castlebrae High School Derek Curran. Picture: Julie Bull
Head of Castlebrae High School Derek Curran. Picture: Julie Bull
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A RAFT of emergency measures to revitalise the Capital’s most embattled secondary school is to be rolled out following a scathing report which reveals kids are still being failed.

The new head of Castlebrae High has revealed £100,000 will be spent to help turn round the school after Education Scotland revealed there has been “insufficient improvement” there.

A £30,000 portion of the war chest will be spent to ensure the school’s pupils are the first in Edinburgh to be given mini iPads.

Derek Curran, parachuted into his position five weeks ago, said he would also be focussing on “getting the basics right” and tackling chronic under-occupancy at the 900-capacity school, where the roll is just 130.

Under his vision, the school entrance is set to be revamped, while classrooms will undergo radical rearrangement to create a teaching “heart” aimed at countering the school’s empty and unused space.

In direct contrast with many other schools across the capital, where pupils find themselves crammed in like sardines, Castlebrae has become an eerily spacious.

“There’s no magic wand we can wave,” said the top teacher. “The change and improvement will be gradual and over time. The important thing now is that we change the perception of the community about how they see the school.”

The scale of the uphill task facing the school was laid bare in a follow-up inspection report published yesterday. It found there had been “insufficient improvement” across the board and that efforts to improve literacy and numeracy among pupils had “not been sustained”.

While Mr Curran admitted the performance of S4 pupils in this summer’s exams was down on last year he insisted there were plenty of strengths to build on.

“The report is not unexpected – it has to be acknowledged that the school has gone through a fairly difficult and traumatic period,” he said.

“But it also talks about the good practice in parts of the school. In the creative and aesthetic areas and in technology, particularly digital gaming technology, we have good feedback from inspectors.

“What we need is a way of sharing that good practice across the school.” Details
on the action plan come as education bosses and a specially appointed group of national experts continue discussions on how Castlebrae’s performance can be turned around after it was nearly closed over poor exam results and falling rolls.

The renewed commitment to the school was welcomed by pupils, who said Castlebrae offered a unique and supportive learning environment.

George Murray, 15, said: “The school wouldn’t be open now if they didn’t think it had a future. It’s the smallness of the school that I like – you get more attention. And the school’s really good for the creative industries. You can get involved in all of that here.”

Susan Heron, vice-chairwoman of Castlebrae High parent council, hopes “serious improvements will now be made” at the school. She said: “We are delighted that councillors and council officers are committing themselves to the improvements.”

‘An eerie silence and empty desks’

EDUCATION Reporter John Paul Holden on the school that’s only 14 per cent full:

In a fast-growing city where so many schools are packed to the rafters, it’s unsettling to walk through Castlebrae’s deserted classrooms after the morning bell has gone.

Where you would expect a frenetic hive of start-of-term activity and groups of excited youngsters yelling at each other down corridors, there is only an eerie silence and empty desks.

Headteacher Derek Curran tells me under-occupancy at the school - this year’s S1 intake was only nine - means a far from ideal learning environment.

“At the moment, you can go a long way before you see a child - that’s not good,” he says.

“We want to draw all of that activity together. So all of the traditional, academic subjects will be drawn into one part of the school, on the second floor, and youngsters will only go out of that for practical subjects.

“It’s about consolidating our activity – a school should have a heart.”