Two rows of thank you cards line the top of the cupboards in her office.

A print by The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse author Charlie Mackesy encourages pupils to ask for help while another invites pupils to "chase" rather than follow their dreams.

Her door is always open, literally and metaphorically. Most pupils will not take her up on the offer because problems and concerns will be dealt with further down the line but the intention is there.

It's the part of the job Brenda McLachlan, head teacher of Stonelaw High School in Rutherglen, says she enjoys most and there is a warmth to all her interactions.

A pupil with her hood up in the corridor is told to take it down but it doesn't feel like a scolding.

This approach appears to be replicated across the secondary, which has around 1000 pupils. A school office worker offers some words of encouragement to a teenage boy nervously waiting to sit an exam.

Schools generally have a far greater focus on the mental wellbeing of pupils but Stonelaw takes it very seriously indeed.


"I'm about inclusive, I'm about care and I'm about kindness," says the head teacher of six years and it doesn't sound cliched at all.

"If you get that right for young people, then the attainment thing will come."

It's this approach that impressed education inspectors, who singled her out for her "outstanding but understated" leadership but she bats this away, crediting the efforts of staff for the glowing report, which described the school as "sector leading". Pupils at risk of exclusion told inspectors they felt supported.

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"It was a very good report and obviously we are pleased but it highlighted for me the things that are important - and that's wellbeing," says the head.

The school has a wide catchment area, extending to the fringes of Glasgow, with pupils from the most deprived SIMD (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation) areas mixing with those from affluent parts of South Lanarkshire.

Around 60-70 UCAS applications are processed every year for university places.

Attainment is important, pupils will progress to dentistry, medicine and law but so too is every other leaver "destination".


There is a very strong focus on clubs - several pupils mention it is one of the best things about the non-denominational school.

"We are measured by league tables so they become valuable," says the head.

"But maybe we need to start measuring other things."

The school has its own approach to the Scottish Government's Shanari indicators - Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Nurtured, Active, Respected. Responsible - with pupils asked to share their experiences through questionnaires.

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Young people are tracked three times a year to measure how they are progressing.

"There is another wee bit in it, where if you want to speak to someone you tick that box and I quite often will pick up those kids to talk to," said the head teacher.

"We get that data at individual and population level. So I'm able to say with that class, there is an issue with feeling included so we need to think what more can we do."

Attainment and skills is also tracked to give the young person a profile. If wellbeing is an issue, they might be directed to clubs.

"Pupil support is at the heart of our school," says Ms McLachlan.

"The seven members of pupil support know their young people very well.

"They stay with them from 11-18.


"That was always an ambition of mine when I came here to make that the middle of things and I would say that has really played out for us."

She says the school has put a lot of work into the classroom "experience" - something that was highlighted in the report - and you sense it's far removed from the copying off the blackboard approach.

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"Teachers, always know what they are teaching in their heads but what we have worked hard on is getting that structure right so that young people understand," said the head.

"The beginning of the lesson sets up what young people are going to learn and what they need to do to be successful.

"You then create an experience in the teaching and then what you do at the end is check that kids have understood.

"As a head teacher, you are removed from the classroom. You keep yourself relevant by focussing on what happens in the classroom.

"I would say that what I hopefully do well is try to make complex things not feel complex because wellbeing is complex, learning and teaching assessment is complex so how do you work to declutter that so that teachers don't feel overwhelmed by the job."

Originally from Hamilton, she studied economic policy at Stirling University and then went into teaching, with posts at secondary schools in Greenock, East Kilbride and  Kirkintilloch that included guidance-related senior roles.

She said: "I think a good school is a school that cares about their young people and their families and their staff.

"Healthy staff will support children to do well."

Rhona Wallace, the school's Head of English and Literature, has worked in a number of schools including Jordanhill, Glasgow's independent, which is consistently ranked among Scotland's top performers.

From a teaching perspective, she says Stonelaw "feels quite a different school".

She said; "We have access to all kinds of opportunities that are less common in other schools from classroom teacher to faculty head.

"If you see something you want to lead or develop and take it to Brenda, she will let you run with it.

"Teachers at all levels are leading on things that might sit with middle management or deputes at other schools and I think that's a real strength.

"League tables to us are not worth the paper they are written on because it's about so much more than Highers and it was so lovely to have all those things recognised in the inspection report."