Pioneering school is top class

John Wilson, acting head teacher of Newbattle High School
John Wilson, acting head teacher of Newbattle High School
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A HIGH school which started giving pupils the chance to focus on their favourite subjects and interests has achieved the best results in its 42-year history.

Newbattle Community High’s unique approach to learning has become the envy of schools across Scotland – and even the world.

Its success is being put down to a range of measures, including its pioneering “academies” system, which was created by staff five years ago.

The academies – designed to encourage teachers to work together across departments – were set up in sports and expressive arts and involve pupils aged 13 and over taking extra lessons in up to two of their chosen Standard Grade subjects.

The idea is that by the time youngsters are ready to sit exams, they will have a greater in-depth knowledge of the subjects in which they have chosen to specialise, thus improving their marks.

Newbattle High, just outside Dalkeith, has witnessed the fruits of the initiative by recording its best ever results, while the number of pupils staying on beyond S4 is at an unprecedented high and the number of pupils joining clubs or study groups after school is also at a peak.

Acting headteacher John Wilson said: “The academies really motivate the young people.

“Pupils are still doing eight Standard Grades, but because they have had the opportunity to spend more time on one or two subjects from a younger age, it gives them a better chance to attain better results.”

The academies system stemmed from a scheme the school was already running, known as “peak performance”, which sees 19 groups of pupils in S2, S5 and S6 working together on large-scale projects in areas such as music, drama, basketball and fashion.

The youngsters take on different roles in areas they are interested in in order to put on a public performance such as a dance show.

Mr Wilson said: “It helps young people to see a point in their learning because it’s going on public display. It also helps the pupils to work together for a common goal.

“For example, we have pupils working on the construction of a stage for an event who will have to collaborate with those responsible for the choreography to make sure what they are each doing is feasible.”

The approach at Newbattle is so widely respected that other headteachers look towards it as a model for their own schools.

Mr Wilson added: “We have a number of visitors coming to the school who have looked to our model and have introduced something similar in their own schools. We have even had inquiries from Australia.”

Mr Wilson was keen to stress, however, that Newbattle’s success is also down to the hard work and dedication of staff throughout the school.

Councillor Peter Boyes, Midlothian’s education leader, added: “It’s astonishing to see the impact these academies are having.

“By giving pupils more say in tailoring their education to their interests and desires, they are building young people’s confidence, allowing them to develop star qualities they may not even know they had.”