September 2017

Published: 29 September 2017

Events
What a lovely week this has been in school! A highlight for me was lunch on Tuesday in the home economics kitchen: as part of our link with Dementia Friendly East Lothian, junior pupils and members of the community spent the morning cooking lunch and then sitting down together to enjoy the delicious dishes they had made. Invited guests also enjoyed lunch, served very professionally by pupils, including a choice of soups, apple crumble and fruit salad. Tuesday was a special day for another reason, as it was European Day of Languages. Throughout the week, we had conversations and activities in a variety of languages, including S1s taking part in a Euro Quiz, while S3s held the Euro Olympics. Senior pupils studying languages had a visit from Heriot Watt students, sharing their very positive experience of studying a language at university. Towards the end of the week, our charities committee was busy organising a bake sale as part of Macmillan Cancer Support’s Big Coffee Morning. There were certainly plenty of customers for the goodies on sale, so I hope that a good amount of money was raised. Still on the theme of food, we welcomed Aniko Schuetz Bradwell, minister of Yester Parish, to our assemblies this week. Aniko spoke about food being plentiful at harvest time, and asked us to think about sharing with others who have less than ourselves – food for thought, indeed. Looking back to last weekend, it sounds as if our S6s had a great time on the residential trip to Dalguise Adventure Centre in Perthshire. There’s no doubt that many of the young people stepped outside their comfort zone at times over the two days and, as a group, they have created special memories of their last year in school.

Lovely Moments
Phil Gilholm from Pupil Support asked me to present Bikeability certificates to two pupils who had completed the course to a very high standard. It was a joy to see their huge smiles of pride at their achievement. Another lovely moment came as I stood at the front door greeting pupils with a smile and a 'Good morning.' After wishing me a 'Good morning' back, a pupil stopped and said to me, 'Seeing you here when I come into school makes me feel like I'm coming into Hogwarts.' I wonder if that's because I remind him of Professor McGonagall?

Staffing
We are delighted to welcome new members of staff who have joined Knox Academy since the start of term: Mrs Malone in business education; Mrs Stewart in computing; Mr Murray in PE; Mrs Waybel in art and Mrs Davis at Meadowpark. We hope that they will settle in quickly here at Knox and we are sure they will be a real asset to the school. I am also pleased to say that Mr Redford has been appointed to the post of principal teacher of expressive arts (acting).

Dress Code
I am delighted that the vast majority of our pupils take pride in following the dress code, dressing appropriately for a place of work and identifying with the school. Indeed, visitors to the school have commented positively on this. It is disappointing, then, to see some pupils dressed very casually in ripped black jeans which I do not believe are suitable for school. I am speaking to pupils individually about this aspect of the dress code and I would very much appreciate the support of parents in ensuring that our young people are dressed appropriately. The dress code is an important aspect of our positive school ethos.

SQA Post-results Service
As part of the analysis of SQA exam results, schools compare results attained by individual pupils with their estimated grade. If a pupil has performed well below the estimate grade and the school suspects an error may have occurred in the totalling of marks, then the school can request a clerical check. If the school holds clear and compelling evidence that there is a reasonable possibility an error may have occurred with the marking, then the school may request a marking review. This would be following discussion between the teacher, principal teacher, SQA co-ordinator and head teacher. A pupil or parent may also ask the school to look into the possibility of submitting a marking review. Before a request for a marking review is submitted to SQA, the candidate should provide written confirmation that they wish this to go ahead; this is because the candidate’s mark could go down or up following a marking review. East Lothian secondary schools, in common with most other schools across Scotland, follow the SQA guidelines and the advice paper from ADES (Association of Directors of Education in Scotland) regarding the post-results service. These have been brought together in a Knox Academy policy and procedures document which can be found on the school website. This year’s marking review results were received by the school today (29 September) and candidates are being informed whether their request has resulted in a change of grade.

Advanced Higher Courses
We are very proud that we are able to offer Advanced Higher courses in many subjects at Knox Academy. Throughout the month of June and up until the September weekend, many of these classes were timetabled for five taught periods per week. Some subjects with a very small uptake for Advanced Higher have had fewer taught periods from the beginning; rather than withdraw the course due to low uptake, the decision was taken to offer the course with reduced teaching time. I am pleased that we have been able to do this as it offers more choice to our S6 pupils. Since the September weekend, we have moved to four taught periods in most Advanced Higher courses. This is common practice for courses at this level, where a proportion of the time in school should be dedicated to independent study. This may be for folio or practical work, for example, or for more in-depth study of topics covered in taught lessons. More information on Advanced Higher courses can be found on the SQA website.

Anomalies
The safety of our pupils is paramount and one aspect of ensuring this safety is our anomalies system. Senior members of staff check anomalies every period, picking up pupils who are not where they should be. Our main focus is period 1, first thing in the morning, and period 5, straight after lunch, as these are the times when pupils are most likely to be late to class. We always contact parents if a pupil does not appear at all during those periods. We also contact parents immediately at other periods throughout the day if the pupil is in S1, if we feel they might be vulnerable, or if we have any other concern. If the pupil has been truanting a lesson, parents will be informed and an after-school detention will be arranged so that the pupil can catch up with work missed. The House team, i.e. guidance teacher and depute head teacher, keep an overview of anomalies for all young people in their House and liaise with parents should there be any concern.

Parent Council
Our next Parent Council meeting is on Wednesday 4 October at 6.15 pm in the School Library. I hope that many parents and carers will be able to join us. The agenda includes a presentation on the school’s attainment in the 2017 SQA exam diet.

Lauren Rodger
Interim Head Teacher

Published: 22 September 2017

As interim head teacher of Knox Academy, I would like to share my thoughts on my early experience in the school, as well as introduce myself to you. My focus in these first weeks has been on getting to know the staff and the pupils and getting a good sense of ‘how we do things’ here at Knox. I have also spent quite a bit of time trying to orientate myself in the building, an experience that has given me a good understanding of how our new S1 pupils must feel when they arrive in August. Thankfully, there is always someone on hand to point me in the right direction should I get lost.

Since arriving at the school, I am delighted to say that I have found Knox Academy pupils to be polite, friendly, respectful young people and it is a real pleasure to be working with them. In my short time here, I have already seen many examples of our young people being wonderful ambassadors for the school – at a Parent Council meeting, the Senior Phase information evening, the P7 open evening and a Haddington Community Council meeting. For me, the value of respect has to be at the heart of a school community – respect for each other in school, respect for our wider community, and respect for our environment. I am seeing this respect in spades at Knox Academy and it is something that I am determined we continue to build on. In recent assemblies with all year groups I have spoken about respect, tying this in with a story on the importance of kindness in our relationships with each other. Building strong, warm relationships between all in the Knox Academy school community is a theme I will return to throughout the session.

A number of parents have contacted me regarding recent press coverage of the school. Whilst I cannot comment in any detail on an incident involving individual pupils, I can say that the matter referred to in the press was dealt with appropriately in school. The safety of our young people is always paramount and we have clear procedures in place to address behavioural issues. The Respectful Relationships policy, launched earlier this year, enhances these procedures as it encourages high expectations regarding behaviour and it fosters a positive ethos. My role is to ensure that all in our school community abide by the spirit and the practice of the policy, thus ensuring that Knox Academy is a safe, happy place in which to work and learn.

Since joining the management team at Knox Academy, I have been impressed by the vision of staff in how they see the school evolving and where they want it to be. Much of the discussion in team meetings has focused on how we can work together to move the school forward. Our thinking is being shaped by our own observations and shared knowledge of the school, as well as by three key documents: the Summary of Inspection Findings from HMI published in March 2017; the school’s Post-inspection Action Plan; and the School Improvement Plan. A great deal of work has gone into the latter two documents and from these we are identifying our key priorities for the year ahead, as well as targets for future years. I will be sharing more about these key priorities with you very soon. To help us lead the school forward, particularly in terms of strategic vision, I am delighted that Mrs Claire Slowther has been seconded from Dunbar Grammar School. Mrs Slowther may be known to many of you as she previously taught biology in Knox Academy – hence, she knows her way around the building much better than I do. At present, I cannot say how long Mrs Slowther will be with us; indeed, I am not yet certain of how long I will be in post here either. What I can say is that we are both very pleased to have been appointed to Knox Academy, albeit on a temporary basis, and we are completely committed to the school and to working with everyone in its community. Though I am sending out this letter to you in paper form, my intention with future updates is to use the school website. Please do consider subscribing to the website so that you do not miss any updates. You can do this very simply: go to knox.is/newsdesk, fill in your details, then respond to the confirmatory email. Can you also please ensure that the school has your up to date email address as increasingly we are using email as a means of communication. I have been liaising with the chair of the Parent Council and the chair of the PC communications subgroup on how we can improve communication between school and home. I would welcome any comments or suggestions you may have on this.

I said at the beginning of this letter that I would introduce myself to you, so here is a snapshot of my journey to the role at Knox Academy. I grew up in Gullane and went to primary school in the village, then on to North Berwick High School. After six very happy years at NBHS, I went to Aberdeen University to study English. It was a joy to spend four years studying what I was passionate about - literature and language. In particular, I loved reading Scottish texts and studying the Scots language, and I loved poetry. To this day, I always have a poetry book on the go, as well as whatever else I am reading. When I left university, I had just one ambition: to become a mother. My three children were all born south of the border, as my husband’s work took us first to Kent and then to Lancashire. It was in Lancashire that I first became fascinated by how children learn, through watching my own children’s early attempts at reading and through volunteering as a parent helper at their primary school. When I became a school governor there, my interest widened to include more general education issues and I decided to train as a teacher myself. Having completed my teacher training year at university in Manchester, our family moved back to East Lothian and I began working at St Margaret’s School in Edinburgh, where I eventually became Head of English. In my latter years at St Margaret’s, I undertook the Scottish Qualification for Headship at Edinburgh University and began looking for a post in senior management. After eleven years teaching in the independent sector, I was keen to make the move into the state system and I was thrilled to be appointed as Depute Head Teacher at my old school in 2006 and then, seven years later, to take on the role of Head Teacher. While I have thoroughly enjoyed every role I have taken on in education, from parent helper to head teacher, there is no doubt that the role I have found most fulfilling – as well as, admittedly, the most challenging – is that of head teacher. What guides me in this role are my values and what I consider to be the non-negotiables in school:

  • strong, positive relationships built on mutual respect and trust;
  • a relentless focus on improving teaching and learning for all, fostering a spirit of curiosity;
  • rigorous self-evaluation and honest reflection on what we do well and what we can do better;
  • lots of opportunities within and beyond the classroom for wider achievement and the development of skills and attributes.

In my experience, if we get these things right then our young people can thrive and flourish in a safe and happy school community. This, in turn, leads to high attainment, thus opening doors for life beyond school. That is my wish for our young people and I trust that parents and carers will support me in this, sharing my pride at being a part of the Knox Academy school community.

Lauren Rodger
Interim Head Teacher