December 2017

Published: 17 December 2017

Drama pupils have enjoyed being members of the audience recently, rather than performing or producing themselves. S1 – S4 pupils saw a physical, visually-stunning production of The Arabian Nights at the Lyceum Theatre, while Higher and Advanced Higher pupils saw How to Disappear at the Traverse Theatre. Both productions have inspired pupils and Ms Whitfield looks forward to seeing the impact on pupils’ work in future.

S6 psychology pupils were also in the capital recently, attending a conference at the Assembly Rooms. Lecturers and authors gave interesting and educational talks on topics such as the difference between science and pseudoscience, bad science and exploring empirical evidence. There were also live experiments and demonstrations.  You Tube sensation and magician Richard Wiseman demonstrated some magic tricks as well as giving some insight into the psychology of magic and the subject of sleep and dreams, one of the Higher topics.  The day ended with a stage hypnotist who gave a live demonstration of the power of the mind.

A group of senior pupils, led by Cole Dean and Andrew McKnight in S6, organised a very successful activity designed to encourage pupils to bond in House teams. In the sports hall, they ran a dodgeball tournament for S1, S2 and S3 year groups, with all pupils participating and aiming to win points for their House. While teachers were on hand, the event was delivered entirely by the senior pupils themselves and they certainly did a great job. Many thanks for showing such initiative and enthusiasm.

What a pleasure it was to be on duty at our Snow Ball Christmas dance on Thursday evening. While the music wasn’t always to my taste and was a bit loud (yes, I’m showing my age), our young people had a ball! The atmosphere was super, and I loved how all year groups were enjoying this event together. I’m sure it will have created a lasting memory for everyone who attended. I’m looking forward to seeing the photos taken throughout the evening by Mr Dempster as a record of a very happy occasion. Thank you to Mr Elms and Mr MacDonald who were our DJs for the night, to all the PTA members who gave up their evening to provide refreshments and run the cloakrooms and, last but not least, to Mrs Ball for organising the event so brilliantly.

Judging Duties
This week, I have been on the judging panel for three different competitions. It’s not always easy picking a winner, particularly when the quality of competition is so high. I really have been blown away by our young people this week and there are many moments when I have felt extremely proud to be the head teacher of Knox Academy.

Youth Philanthropy Initiative – All our S5 pupils have been working on a YPI project this term, with teams researching and visiting local charities in a bid to win £3000 for their chosen organisation. An aim of YPI is to grow compassionate communities by connecting youth to social issues and we certainly saw plenty of connection and awareness of social issues, as well as compassion. Following heats, six winning teams delivered their presentations in the Hall to S4 and S5 pupils and to the judges: Provost John McMillan; Gregor Booth, a member of last year’s winning team; and me. Keeping us right was George Smuga, from YPI, who emphasised that the main criteria for judging were: the quality of the presentation, the focus on the local element, the level of involvement of the young people, the level of detail in how the £3000 would be spent. The winning team persuaded us that £3000 could make a real difference to East Lothian Foodbank – I’m sure the charity will be hugely grateful for the great job that they have done.

Dragons’ Den – I’ve never been a Dragon before but I have to say I really enjoyed the experience, particularly when my offer of £30k for a 30% share of a business was accepted! This was the culmination of a unit of work for S3 business management pupils: they had to pitch their idea to the Dragons in a team presentation which included a TV advert and a prototype of the product. The teams really knew their stuff, enhancing their pitches with excellent detail about production costs, profit margins, target markets, future plans. There were various sessions throughout the week and Mr Flood, principal teacher, is very grateful to everyone who gave up their time to judge, including Ross Prentice from Prentice Coaches and Max Sykes from Canon UK. We certainly have plenty budding entrepreneurs at Knox Academy.

Cake Decorating – S3 pupils have certainly been busy recently as this is another competition involving their year group. In home economics, pupils have been baking and decorating Christmas cakes and the finished products were put before teams of judges throughout the week. The standard was exceptional: many of the cakes looked as if they had been decorated by a professional. Of course, this made judging very difficult. We were looking for originality of design, variety of techniques on display and perfect execution. Though the cakes look almost too good to eat, I’m sure they will be enjoyed hugely by families over the festive season.

Meadowpark Christmas Card Competition – Though I wasn’t on the judging panel for this competition, I was a proud member of the audience when we learnt that Max had won two bikes for the school, as well as a voucher for himself, with his Christmas card design. The competition was run by David Wilson Homes and almost all our Meadowpark pupils took part. There was wide variety in the designs and lots of creativity on display. Max’s design of a friendly Santa looked great made up into a proper card, and it will be dropping through many letterboxes over the next week. Well done, Max!

Christmas Boxes – On Monday, I will be taking up judging duties again, this time for the Christmas Boxes competition. Every register class has designed and decorated a box which will be filled with goodies to deliver to members of our local community. The boxes will all be on display in the Hall ready for judging, and I’m sure it’s going to be another tough job to pick a winner! In a way, of course, every box is a winner, as it is going to bring a bit of extra Christmas cheer to someone who deserves it. Thank you to all parents and carers who have given their child an item to donate to the box. Do look out for pictures on Twitter of the many colourful boxes.

I am happy to tell  you that my contract at Knox Academy has been extended until Easter, in the first instance. Two more acting posts have also been extended until Easter: Mrs MacLeod, depute head teacher, and Mr Redford, principal teacher of expressive arts, continue in their acting roles. We have two new teachers joining us in January, in biology and RME, and I will introduce them to you in a briefing in the new year. Returning to Knox on 8 January following her maternity leave is Mrs Machen, principal teacher of communication and literacy. She will be returning on a part-time basis and will be sharing the PT post with Mrs Rankine, who has been acting in post covering the maternity leave. We look forward to welcoming Mrs Machen back to Knox Academy.

Knox Academy Values Consultation
Many thanks to those of you who have responded to our school values consultation. This will help to inform our thinking on the way ahead for Knox Academy and I am really grateful that so many people have taken the time to answer the three questions, often in quite a bit of depth. If you haven’t yet responded, there is still time to do so by following the link on the text that was sent to parents and carers.

East Lothian Parental Engagement Strategy
Parents and education staff in East Lothian worked together over recent months to produce the Parental Engagement Strategy, which gives a clear way forward for increased parental involvement in our schools. All pupils have been given a copy of a leaflet outlining the Strategy. Do ask your child about it if they have not yet passed it on to you.

School Magazine
The latest edition of the school magazine has been produced in paper copy form, as well as in the usual online version. I would highly recommend it to you. Under the leadership of Amy McKinnon, the editorial team have produced an excellent read – informative, thought-provoking and amusing by turns. Copies will be available at the Christmas concert, or you can ask your child to bring a copy home. In order to raise funds to produce the paper edition, at very short notice the team planned and ran an enjoyable and successful evening event – a quiz for all ages. Amy and her team should feel very proud of their achievements with the magazine and it’s lovely that they have this high quality paper edition to keep for posterity. I was editor of the school magazine in my S6 year, and I still have a copy that I bring out on occasion when meeting up with old school friends!

Upcoming Events
It’s going to be a busy final week in school. Learning will be carrying on until the last day, but there are also quite a few Christmas activities during the week. As well as the Christmas boxes being delivered, we have our concerts on Tuesday afternoon and evening. I have heard some of the ensembles rehearsing as I’ve walked along the music corridor or past the Hall and I know that we are in for a treat. School concerts are always a highlight of the school year for me and I am really looking forward to my first Knox concert. In the afternoon, we will be welcoming P7 pupils from our cluster schools, as well as parents and friends. The evening concert, too, will have a very appreciative audience and is likely to be a sell-out. I’m sure we’ll all be in the Christmas spirit by the time we leave the concert hall, singing Christmas music in our heads!

Another Christmas event open to family and friends is the S6 Panto, which will be performed on Thursday evening, as well as to all year groups on Friday morning. Based on Shrek, the production is directed by Emily Merritt and choreographed by Arran Marsh, aided by their S6 colleagues. The lighting has been designed for both the Panto and the Christmas concerts by staff and pupils in the drama department. (Watch out for the odd cameo role, too.) I’m certainly looking forward to many laughs on the night, perhaps not all of them planned! The audience on the Thursday evening have an extra treat in the form of the pre-show entertainment by the Junior Drama Club, guaranteed to get the fun started.

On the last day of term, we will all be in our Christmas jumpers in aid of Save the Children; pupils are asked to bring a suggested donation of £1 if they can. The timetable will look a little different on Friday morning, with panto-viewing in the Hall, social dancing in PE and Christmas activities in classrooms. The morning is rounded off with a whole-school singalong of The Twelve Days of Christmas, a Knox Christmas tradition. What a great way to end the term!

I can hardly believe that we are almost at the end of term. I have loved this first term at Knox Academy, in particular getting to know the wonderful staff, pupils and families in our school community. Thank you for the warm welcome that you have given me. I have to admit, though, that I am looking forward to a restful two weeks with family and friends. As this will be my last head teacher’s update of 2017, I wish you all a very happy, relaxing festive season and I look forward to welcoming pupils and staff back to Knox Academy on Monday 8 January 2018. Let’s hope 2018 proves to be a great year for the school and all members of our community!

With warmest Christmas wishes,
Lauren Rodger
Head Teacher

Published: 11 December 2017

It’s a bumper update this week, covering the activities of the last fortnight in school. (There was no head teacher’s update last week as my son got married - school work had to take a backseat.)

Senior pupils studying RMPS (religious, moral and philosophical studies) recently learnt more about the Buddhist way of life on a visit to the Tibetan Buddhist temple in Dumfries and Galloway. The group were given a tour by nun Ani Duklar, who showed them around the peace garden, the stupa and inside the beautifully ornate temple.  There was then an opportunity to try some meditation and to sit in on traditional Tibetan prayers, followed by some delicious vegetarian food.

On 30 November, a group of senior French pupils and staff travelled to Aubigny-sur-Nère, Haddington’s twin town. There were plenty of opportunities to practise their French speaking skills, including staying with host families, visiting the local school and meeting members of the community. The group also explored Chambord Castle, the nearby town of Brouges and the local market, as well as visiting Paris to see the sights. From the Twitter updates, it was clear that food played a big part, too, with many French delicacies being tasted throughout the trip. Thank you to Ms McBride, Ms Laudi and the Haddington and Aubigny Twinning Associations for ensuring that the trip was such a great success.

Another member of the Knox Academy school community has been travelling in Europe recently: Ms Jeffrey is a trampoline coach and she travelled with the Great Britain delegation to the World Age Group Championships, held in Sofia, Bulgaria. The team came home with a clutch of medals, including two World Champion titles. Ms Jeffrey is immensely proud of the team!

Senior pupils studying biology have been busy recently. Advanced Higher pupils attended a conference on the Global Biodiversity Crisis, and they also joined Higher pupils on a DNA workshop at the National Museum of Scotland. Both these events gave pupils the chance to put their academic studies into a real life context. At the workshop, they used cutting-edge equipment to carry out the modern laboratory techniques of DNA extraction, PCR, restriction enzyme digestion and gel electrophoresis, as well as analysing their own DNA.

There have been some impressive achievements from individual Knox Academy pupils recently. In music, Tristan Swan, 3T1, scored an outstanding 92% in his Trinity College Grade 4 guitar exam. Dylan Pearman, 1T2, recently won the Under-13 boys squash championship at Edinburgh Sport Club and we believe he is now number 2 in Scotland in the category. Angus Langlands, 4G1, impressed our Head of Education when he met with her as part of his Scottish Youth Parliament duties. Angus engaged Fiona Robertson in discussion about a number of pertinent issues, and he has now been invited to design the logo for the East Lothian Youth Summit 2018. We look forward to seeing Angus’s design promoting this excellent event next year.

Following the S4 assembly this week, Mr Elms and I had the pleasure of presenting certificates to our Sky Sports Leadership team. Each pupil had logged over 20 hours of voluntary service promoting healthy active lifestyles, while also developing their own leadership skills and confidence. Starting in S3 and carrying on into S4, pupils have contributed to health & wellbeing and PE activities here at Knox and at local primary schools. With over 30 pupils receiving certificates, this contribution has been hugely valuable.

There are some very enjoyable tasks in a head teacher’s remit and one of these occurred this week: along with DHT Mrs Slowther, I was asked by Mrs Rankine to judge the work of her S3 English class biscuit production teams. Each team had to: create a recipe for a Christmas biscuit and bake it in home economics; research the market for the biscuit; work out production costs and likely profit margins; design and make the packaging; pitch the product to their classmates and the judges with a group presentation. Mrs Slowther and I were hugely impressed by the work of the teams and the judging was not an easy task. In fact, we had to try each of the delicious biscuits a few times before we could reach a final decision.

Last Saturday, our S6 Young Enterprise teams had the opportunity to promote and sell their wares at the YE Christmas Market, held at Central Halls in Edinburgh. Knox Academy fielded three teams and the All Is Bright team, selling handmade candles, won second place in the Best Sales and Marketing category. It seems we have some budding entrepreneurs in our S6 year group!

This Saturday night was undoubtedly the coldest night of the winter so far, with temperatures well below freezing. Yet that was the night an intrepid group of senior pupils, Ms Fraser and Mr Murray joined around 8,000 people in Princes Street Gardens for the Sleep in the Park. The event was to raise awareness of the plight of the homeless here in Scotland, and to raise funds to provide shelter. A massive well done to the Knox team for lasting the whole night, and thank you to everyone in our school community who donated to the cause.

4 Key Priorities
In a previous head teacher’s update, I outlined the 4 Key Priorities for Knox Academy:

• deliver high quality teaching and learning;
• support the needs of all learners;
• foster an ethos of ambition;
• provide leadership opportunities for all.
If you are in school do have a look at our display board beside reception, which is being regularly updated with progress on the actions towards achieving our 4 Key Priorities. It’s not just staff who are working on the 4 Key Priorities: our Pupil Learning Team is also focusing on these. At last week’s meeting of the school’s Extended Management Team, the S6 leaders of the Pupil Learning Team gave an update on how they are working on the Priorities with teams of pupils in every year group. PTs have commented on how impressive this presentation was, and I am delighted that our pupils are playing such an active role in leading school improvement.

Parent Council
Our last Parent Council meeting of the year took place last Wednesday. Topics discussed included benchmarking assessments, the timing of the lunch break (see below), communications and the S6 leavers’ dance. Our next meeting is on Wednesday 17 January at 6.15 pm in the Library. All parents and carers are very welcome to attend.

Timing of Lunch Break
We are proposing to shorten the lunch break and finish the school day slightly earlier, and I would very much welcome comments from parents on this. Currently, lunchtime is 55 minutes long and in the last 15 minutes or so, pupils can become restless and begin to behave inappropriately around the school corridors. This can have an impact on the period 5 lesson when pupils may be slow to settle. There are activities and clubs taking place at lunchtimes, but teachers feel that they can adapt these accordingly to fit a shorter timescale. The school buses could leave five minutes earlier so pupils would not have long to wait for the bus to depart. We have shared this proposal with staff, Parent Council and the Senior Pupil Team, and we will be asking pupils for their thoughts, too. If you would like to share your thoughts, please email me on the address at the bottom of this update. 

Lost Property
The PE department has amassed an abundance of kit which has been left behind by pupils in PE lessons or extra-curricular clubs. If any pupil has lost an item of kit they should go along to the department on the last Friday of each month, where items will be laid out ready for collection. Any items not collected at the end of the month will be donated to charity or recycled. Please encourage your child to look after their belongings, and to write their name on items, just in case they are left behind.

Lauren Rodger
Head Teacher