St Thomas of Aquins teachers revolt over discipline standards

The teachers at  St Thomas of Aquins School are in revolt. Picture: Greg Macvean
The teachers at St Thomas of Aquins School are in revolt. Picture: Greg Macvean
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TEACHERS at the Capital’s leading Catholic secondary are in revolt against the principal amid claims that morale, standards of discipline and senior school exam performance are “plunging”.

Staff at St Thomas of Aquins High have compiled a catalogue of complaints, seen by the Evening News, which includes reports that serious threats and assaults by pupils are not being appropriately addressed.

It is understood the document has been presented to headteacher Thomas Hughes, who has been in post since 2014 after working at schools in South Lanarkshire, Glasgow and East Dunbartonshire.

Teachers have called for a radical overhaul of the way in which the Lauriston secondary is being run and said its senior management team had failed to communicate or consult adequately with staff over a number of changes and initiatives.

COMMENT: The school needs some stability now

Among the alleged assault victims is a pregnant member of staff who was pushed to the ground. In another reported case, a teacher was “barged into” for asking a pupil to hand over a phone – and then faced pressure to apologise for “intimidation and embarrassment caused” to the youngster after he lodged “demonstrably untrue and malicious” counter-claims.

The complaints catalogue – which it is understood was produced after a meeting of at least 50 staff members and union representatives early last year – states that the behaviour of “all pupils” has steadily worsened since Mr Hughes took over.

It says the deterioration has been particularly marked among senior school pupils, with the exam performance of the last S6 group noticeably lower than in previous years.

Mr Hughes has accounted for the results by describing the pupils as “just a poor year”, according to the document’s authors.

St Thomas’ is regarded as one of Edinburgh’s top secondaries. In 2014, just over half of pupils scored three or more Higher passes by the end of S5, behind only Boroughmuir and Royal high schools.

However, in their complaints document, staff said: “Throughout [Mr Hughes’] tenure no written discipline policy has been in place. No written policy on pupil’s use of mobile phones or on school uniform exists in staff handbooks.”

It also highlights the absence of any policy aimed at supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) pupils and staff.

Education sources today admitted they were aware of “problems” at the school, adding that discussions had begun about introducing changes and providing additional support.

They also noted St Thomas’ has witnessed “unprecedented” senior staff turnover, with five headteachers recruited over the past seven years.

A council spokesman said: “Attainment at St Thomas of Aquins has risen significantly in the two years the headteacher has been in post and the school is performing very favourably in relation to comparative schools.

“The council is fully supporting the headteacher and staff with a package of measures to identify areas of strength and development to ensure the school can continue to provide a first-class learning environment for pupils.”

Damning report card

STAFF complaints against senior management include:

• A failure to deal with pupil threats and assaults against teachers, including a pregnant member of staff.

• A decision to close the sixth form common room and allocate pupils a much smaller space adjacent to the library, leading to a deterioration in behaviour, with library stock worth at least £1200 suffering damage or going missing.

• Detentions which are “too short” or not conducted “at all”, with pupils left unattended and seen using their phones.

• Prefects “resigning” amid complaints they had “not been given enough power”, and an increased tendency to engage in “petty” and “disruptive” behaviour.

• Poor financial management, with figures showing the school’s budget overspend has shot up from £38,000 to £150,000 between 2013-14 and 2014-15.

• Shortcomings in relation to General Teaching Council for Scotland guidance on Standards for Headship.

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com