Williamwood High School, in Clarkston, has topped The Herald’s league tables with 46% of its pupils achieving five or more Highers this year -- better than many private schools.
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It is the first time in recent years that Jordanhill School, in Glasgow, the country’s only state-funded, but independently run secondary, has not come top. This year, Jordanhill was second, with 45% of its pupils achieving the benchmark of five or more Highers in exams earlier this year.
In the independent sector, the High School of Glasgow came top of the larger private schools, with 84% of pupils achieving the benchmark.
The only school to outperform the High School was the small St Mary’s Music School, in Edinburgh, where 86% of pupils got five or more Highers.
John Fitzpatrick, headteacher at Williamwood, welcomed the figures, which are the culmination of an impressive series of annual rises in exam performance since 2007, when he took over at the school.
He believes a number of factors have propelled the school to the top of the league tables, including intensive tracking of pupil performance, challenging teachers to constantly improve and offering as wide a choice of subjects as possible to capture pupil interest.
“It was a very hard-working group of pupils and we are delighted for them, for their parents who gave us such support and for their teachers who went the extra mile to make sure they performed well,” he said.
“We are fortunate so many of our parents have such high expectations of the school and we have tried to match those expectations by constantly raising the bar for our pupils. The most important aspect of this is the quality of teaching and there is a lot of energy and time spent looking at how staff teach and how their colleagues teach and sharing that information.”
Paul Thomson, rector of Jordanhill, also welcomed the figures stating: “These results are a tribute to the commitment and hard work of pupils and staff and to the quality of the partnership between parents and the school,” he said.
Although those schools at the top of The Herald’s league tables were rightly celebrating, it is important to put the information published in perspective.
While the table of the top 50 schools highlights those with the highest exam performance, it does not necessarily make them the best schools.
The difficulties inherent in exam league tables are well illustrated by the fortunes of Castlemilk High School, in one of the most economically deprived areas of Glasgow. The school had 2% of pupils achieving five or more Highers this year, but recently received six ratings of “excellent” out of 17 areas assessed by HM Inspectorate of Education.
The school has also seen a sharp rise in the proportion of pupils going to “positive destinations” such as work, training and further education.
Such anomalies are bound to fuel the controversy that always exists around the publication of league tables based on exam performance alone. Opponents argue they are misleading because they focus only on one measure and do not inform parents about the wider context of education in the school or, crucially, how much it helps pupils improve.
It can also be argued league tables reward complacency in schools that appear to be doing well, having started with the advantage of high aspiration and parental support, but that fail to add as much as they could to pupils’ attainment.
Brian Boyd, emeritus professor of education at Strathclyde University, said: “If you were trying to measure what a school does you need to measure what level a young person is when they enter the school and compare that to where they are when they leave -- exams do not do that.”
However, supporters of tables argue that, in a system run by local authorities, there can be a lack of accountability at school level and publishing performance indicators forces headteachers and directors of education to get to grips with poorly-performing schools. They also argue parents have a right to information, including how a school performs in exams compared with others.
What is clear from the figures published yesterday on the Scottish Schools Online website is the impact of deprivation on exam success. As previous studies have shown, council areas in the most deprived parts of Scotland are largely outperformed by those in the wealthiest areas.
The lowest-performing local authority areas all have a much higher proportion of pupils on free school meals than the national average of 14.4%.
In Glasgow’s case, the figure is 29.8%, but, this year, the council has seen exam grades rise, lifting it off the bottom of the league table.
Jean McFadden, Glasgow’s executive member for education, said: “Our exam results this year are the best ever and we are proud of the young people and their teachers.”
High school shows steady improvement
Although Bannerman High School in Glasgow’s East End does not appear in our top 50, it has made some of the most significant improvements in the last year.
Headteacher Jacqueline Purdie took over the comprehensive in 2004 when the school, which has a campus police officer, was struggling with behaviour and attainment.
However, under her leadership it has showed a steady improvement.
Attainment rates for pupils gaining five or more Highers has doubled from 7% last year to 14% this year, while those earning three or more Highers has risen from 20% to 28% -- putting it above the Glasgow average of 16%.
Ms Purdie, herself a former pupil, said: “The fifth-year pupils have been a very hard working, dedicated bunch since they started. We also have a very strong team of staff.”
Sine taking on the headteacher role she had enforced school uniform standards and created a strong ethos of aiming for achievement in the school.
A total of 38% of Bannerman pupils went on to higher education this year, compared to 27% citywide.