A school in Glasgow's east end has implemented a "red button" emergency system in classrooms to support anxious teachers dealing with difficult pupil behaviour.

David McArthur, head teacher of Lochend Community High School, gave a candid interview to The Herald to set out in explicit terms the issues being dealt with in schools that sit at the "bottom" of our exam result league tables.

Mr McArthur revealed that:
*Teachers have a "red button" set up to summon immediate support to classrooms when they need backup dealing with unruly young people.
*He has had to personally approach local shops to plead with staff not to sell cheap vapes to his pupils.
*Teenagers come to school but refuse to go to classes and "suck the living daylights" out of resources in his school.
*Parents will often take matters into their own hands rather than engage with school bullying procedures - leading to fights in the community.

League tables rank schools according to how many pupils leave with five or more Highers - although this year The Herald ranked schools according to pupils leaving with five or more Level 6 SCQF awards, a more inclusive measure. 

They are frequently and robustly criticised as a blunt instrument for measuring a school's success.

Examining a secondary such as Lochend shows exactly why. In previous years the school has sat at the lower end of the league tables with zero young people leaving school with five or more Highers.

Staff, under Mr McArthur's leadership, have worked astonishingly hard to improve pupil attainment, bringing the number of school leavers with five or more Level 6 awards up to 23% this year.

Lochend has 92% of pupils living in Scotland's most deprived postcodes (SIMD 1) and yet is it one of only a handful of schools in the country to also secure 100% positive leaver destinations (PLD) for young people.

By contrast, Jordanhill School, in the affluent west end of Glasgow, or Williamwood and St Ninian high schools in East Renfrewshire, top the league tables routinely yet have no or very few pupils in SIMD1 and their results remain relatively static. 

None of these three affluent schools hit 100% PLD. 

Some pupils will go on to university - and Lochend has had successes in sending young people to prestigious colleges in the US, for example.

Other young people are supported to go to college, whether that's following on from school or as a part time alternative to classes.

See how your child's school fared in The Herald's league tables

Mr McArthur feels too much pressure is put on schools and pupils to gain a spread of traditional Highers.

He said: "Personally, I don't think we need all the qualifications that we do.

"I've got Higher maths and I've never done an equation in my life.

"Our kids struggle in Maths. Our Maths department, science, physics, biology, chemistry - these subjects our pupils find very, very difficult and they do not suit our kids.

"Reason for that? They don't have a structure in their family household, they might have a school iPad but is it charged? They are more worried about do they have food in their belly. 

"Yes, we've got kids who work really hard and they do really well but we have to think on a grander scale, is that suiting every kid? 

"No. Does every kid intend to go to Highers? No. Does every kid have the ability to get to Highers. No. 

"But the bigger part is: what does that mean for them? And the bigger thing for me is, will they move on to something positive?"

Some young pupils may have the ability to get to university, Mr McArthur says, but their parents cannot afford for them to go "so they'll go somewhere else and they may pick it up later in life when they've got the opportunity."

He added: "So what they'll do is they'll say, 'Oh, I'm going to go to college' and the reason I'm going to college is it's just down the road.

"All the schools at the bottom end have to think differently about this one targeted approach about attainment. Attainment is important but it's not the most important thing in a school. 

"I would like to see every kid going to a destination and sustaining a destination; that's better than a kid who goes to uni and drops out.

"We are preparing these kids for something after school that will help them prepare for their life journey and that, to me, is far more important. 

"I went to PE college. I've never talked to anyone about Highers ever again.

"I ended up with a third class degree but did that stop me? No."

While at the school The Herald is introduced to young people who are taking part in the Barista course, and who make salted caramel iced lattes while we chat on what is one of the hottest days of the year. 

It's one of several new qualifications introduced to give pupils a broader choice.

Sahand Salar Mahmmud, 17, was close to dropping out of school. In his earlier years he was "getting in with a difficult crowd" and not enjoying coming to class.

See how your child's school fared in The Herald's league tables

But teachers saw his potential and worked closely with his mother to keep him engaged at Lochend.

The Herald:

This year he is taking Higher PE, Higher Photography, Barista Skills, Nat 5 English and Nat 5 woodworking - a success story by any measure.

Sahand says he is a proficient barber - while Mr McArthur, pointing to his hairless head, jokes about not needing his talents - and wants to do that full time when he leaves Lochend.

"I kind of didn't really enjoy school and I wanted to leave," he says, "But I decided to stay on and it was alright, just alright. But hopefully this year it will be better and something good will come of it so I can get a few qualifications.

"A lot of new course have come up that are good so you've got more options to do. Some people really don't like school but they can come to school and try different things."

Mr McArthur said: "Several of our kids are on the borderline of being here or not being here.

"They get in with the 'wrong crowd', which can very easily happen in an area like this where perhaps parental structure is not there."

The Herald:

Uniform is one of the challenges the school faces, particularly in the cost of living crisis when the price of blazers and ties has risen dramatically.

The school has switched to a hoodie, which it provides at no cost to pupils who require it, and offers at a discount to other parents. A tie is also provided, meaning school money goes towards uniform - a cost schools in more affluent areas do not have to consider.

READ MORE: We need to change what schools offer our young people

The head teacher said: "So our school is absorbing the costs of education.

"But we don't make pupils feel aware of that. I'll joke with them and say, 'I'll teach you how to do a Windsor knot'."

Mr McArthur tells an anecdote of, in 2018, the then-education secretary John Swinney asking to visit the bottom five schools on the league table - one was his.

Instead, Glasgow's education director at the time arranged for Mr Swinney to meet three city head teachers from Lochend, Castlemilk and Govan high schools alongside pupils.

One girl told Mr Swinney how, at an event for secondary students, she had mentioned the name of her school and other young people laughed.

It was, he says, an indictment of the stigma league tables attach to some schools. He, and his staff, work hard to raise the morale of their pupils and believe league tables do not give a rounded insight into a school.

The sentiment was echoed by Councillor Christina Cannon, the local authority's City Convener for Education and Early Years, said school league tables do not paint an accurate picture of a school.

She said: “How can they when they are only based on one measure and do not take any other aspect of the school community into account?

“In our schools it is never a one size fits all and we are so proud of the attainment and achievement successes across the city.

“Just a couple of months ago it was reported in the media that Glasgow once again had recorded the best positive school leaver destination figures – with four schools achieving 100% - and above the national average for the second year in a row.

“This is what our young people deserve and not for their significant successes to be dismissed by sensational headlines that only set out for one thing and that is clickbait for newspapers."

READ MORE: How about a new measure of success for our young people?

The pandemic has hit the Lochend particularly hard and seen results fall - although only slightly - from pre-pandemic levels. 

Mr McArthur describes the teacher-led marking during the pandemic as some "schools getting sweeties and handing them out", saying marking remained rigorously fair at Lochend. 

Pupil behaviour and bullying has been a hot topic recently with new education minister Jenny Gilruth holding a summit at Holyrood looking at tackling the issue.

The Herald:

The Herald last year shared claims from a whistleblower in Bannerman High School, also to the east of Glasgow, where criticism was made of restorative justice practices.

Mr McArthur is ambivalent about restorative justice and the Pivotal system, although it is something he is trying in Lochend.

Teachers at Bannerman told this paper how pupils roam the halls and Mr McArthur said his staff deal with the same issue.

He said: "We change our shoes into training shoes and we go round the building looking for them. These kids are going out at night and drinking and smoking and then they come in and we're supposed to say, 'Let's sit down and focus on chemistry today'.

"I have a group of kids and they suck the living daylights out of us. Because the other kids who are actually good don't want to be challenged by these kids who are streetwise.

"It has a massive [knock on effect]. Vaping is a nightmare.

"I have been to the local shops to ask them to stop selling vapes to our young people, I have been to the community police and to Trading Standards.

"And in these kinds of communities you've got people who just want to make a fast profit. For £10 - it doesn't matter if you are 12, 13 or 14 - you will get one."

The head teacher says, however, discipline has transformed under his watch, as has lateness and attendance.

He added: "They just wandered in, there was no consequences. People were wearing trackies and Burberry caps. 

"But the kids quickly began to realise I was serious."

Teachers have access to walkie talkies in classrooms and a "red button system" whereby they can call for immediate help if they need to. 

Mr McArthur said: "Sometimes that is used inappropriately but that's because that teacher is already panicking and has just made the call quickly.

"Everybody has access to a red button, if they need it."

Lochend is a small school with capacity for 900 pupils but only 495 on the roll. It is the only school in Glasgow with just two associated primary schools. 

Ten of the departments have just one teacher, meaning there are mixed level classes and staff need to look outwith the school for advice and guidance about their subject.

One of the other challenges is recent Glasgow City Council funding cuts to home support workers - vital in a school like Lochend - and government cuts to Developing the Young Workforce staff.

Mr McArthur said: "We were the first school in Glasgow to have an employability officer and that changed the game. 

"We currently have no employability officer and I will have to part-fund that.

"If I want to keep my home school support worker I will have to fund that too and yes, PEF [pupil equity funding] is there but I don't think it should be used for that because these are necessities these days."

Mr McArthur added: "In our school the kids who might be left behind are not left behind. We make sure everyone leaves with something.

"I tell our young people you don't have to wait for education to help you, it's about what you do now to help yourself. You don't get anything without hard work."