A HEADTEACHER who sparked protests by introducing a controversial new curriculum model is to take early retirement.

Geoff Urie, head of Hermitage Academy in Helensburgh, has made the decision ahead of publication of a critical report from school inspectors.

Mr Urie has been at the school for 11 years and will retire this summer at the end of the academic year.

Schools inspectorate Education Scotland has already blamed the school’s unusual policy, which has now been changed, for low attainment among some pupils.

In 2015 inspectors were called in over the way Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) exams were being introduced, which meant some pupils reached fifth form with no qualifications in crucial subjects, such as mathematics.

In a letter to parents, Mr Urie highlighted positive developments during his time, including the fact attainment improved for some groups. He said: “Hermitage Academy has undergone transformational changes, including the move to our new building, considerable number of staff retiring or being promoted, many new staff being appointed, a significant improvement in the behaviour and attitude of the pupils and increased attainment and achievements.

“I am very proud of the achievements of the young people of Hermitage Academy and this year I was particularly pleased with the school recording the best S5 Higher results ever.”

Mr Urie said he was also proud of the wider successes and achievements of pupils and the inclusive nature of the school.

He added: “It has been a privilege to work with so many staff who are totally dedicated to teaching and supporting young people.

“I regularly witnessed staff, teaching and non-teaching, go the extra mile to ensure pupils are getting the help and support they need.”

Former pupil Emma Johnston, who is now studying immunology at Aberdeen University, said the exam policy had not worked.

The 18-year-old said: “I wanted to study medicine, but because I went straight to Highers I had no experience of exam conditions and froze in my physics exam.

“Some pupils need to do National 5 exams to get practice before they sit Highers and others were being put in for Highers that they were not suited to and so felt like a failure.”

A parent said: “Unfortunately his legacy is that many children over the last few years have left Hermitage Academy without achieving their full potential.

“He implemented a rigid curriculum and exam model that failed to meet the needs of all pupils and ignored the concerns of pupils and parents.”

Under CfE, schools have more flexibility over when exams are sat, but in most schools, pupils sit National 5 exams in fourth year before choosing Highers the following year.

However, under the previous policy at Hermitage, in Argyll and Bute, no pupils sat exams in their fourth year, which parents warned meant some could reach the end of fifth year with no qualifications.

In its 2015 report Education Scotland accepted that attainment of pupils at Higher had increased since 2014 and was now in line with the performance of similar schools.

But it added: “By S5 the overall attainment of young people at National 3, National 4 and National 5 is significantly below that of other young people with similar needs and backgrounds in schools across Scotland.

“We believe that this is a result of the inflexible approach taken by the school to two-year courses and a lack of consistently high quality assessment to monitor and track young people’s progress through learning.”

The council’s own review said the school had embraced the key principles of CfE - a position backed up by an inspection report from 2010 - but noted that only a small number of schools in Scotland applied a similar framework.

It added: “Young people, parents and staff do not have shared understanding of the progress individual young people are making. Target and presentation levels are not sufficiently clear for all young people and their parents.”

The council pledged to apply greater flexibility” in the delivery of the curriculum in future with the introduction of one -year study for qualifications where appropriate.