Destructive criticism of school

Shock, indignation, anger, incredulity and sadness – some of the emotions stirred upon reading last week’s front-page article about Jedburgh Grammar School examination results.

This damaging broadside is not just insensitive, it is unforgivable. What sort of message does it impart to the pupils soon to be returning, to the new S1 intake and to the parents and staff? How demoralising.

Our local paper should be encouraging our schools, not promoting destructive criticism.

Academic achievement is only one facet of a school’s success. Just as important is the sort of person that a school releases into society at the end of their school years.

Although I retired in 2009 after 31 fulfilling years teaching in one of our region’s largest schools, I have been doing supply work. Most recently I had the privilege of teaching maths for two terms in Jedburgh Grammar. It was an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

The school has a great ethos and there is a genuine atmosphere of caring, community and family. Pupils, staff and parents are welcoming and supportive. Once the pupils I was teaching got over the shock of a new face and, dare I say, a more traditional way of teaching, I found the vast majority of them polite, keen to learn, hard-working and a pleasure to teach.

As I learned more about the school, I was impressed by the range of achievements of many of the pupils in extra-curricular areas, in the arts and their cheerful determination to do their best in all areas of activity in the school.

No school should be judged on its academic record alone – particularly in these times of stringent education cuts. Perhaps we have got our priorities wrong.

Yes, money is tight, but if we wish our young people to get the best start possible in life, we should be looking at increasing the number of teachers in schools, particularly the smaller ones, to give the flexibility of being able to provide a wide range of courses with full teaching time allocation for each – regardless of class size.

There should also be enough time given to staff to allow them to prepare lessons and courses fully without eating into their home lives.

Each and every pupil should be provided with the necessary materials and resources (such as text books), not just for use in school, but also for study and learning purposes at home.

If this means stringent cuts and reduced salaries in the upper echelons of the world of national and local government, so be it. What price can be put on the nurturing of a budding Brewster, Rutherford, Somerville or Thomson?

I hope that none of our Jed Grammar “family” will allow the aforementioned article to dampen their desire to do their best and make the most of the opportunities available to them.

Instead, may their resolve be strengthened to build an even stronger future for the school and town.

Let’s hear the cry “Jethart’s here!” – and be proud of it.

Tony Rae

Wildcatcleugh

Jedburgh

NOT A VIABLE BENCHMARK

Shame on you, Southern Reporter.

Yes, on paper the results of pupils in the Advanced Higher exam at Jedburgh Grammar School look disappointing this year. Was there really a need to emblazon the fact all over your front page?

You chose to allot less space on page five to a far more relevant report on an overall educational success story in the Borders. How much better and more balanced it would have been to have reversed the position of the reports.

I am very disappointed by your limited knowledge about educational matters. One-off attainment data is not a viable benchmark by which to judge a school and its community.

It was good that you gave the rector ample opportunity to explain the situation, but he should not have had to be on the back foot.

Statistics can be and often are misleading. There are many factors to consider in pupils’ performances, especially progress and contextual matters, and you should be mindful of these.

It is important for your paper to highlight any issues in local education, but it is your position to report fairly, not to judge myopically. The next school inspection report will show how well pupils are doing overall, and from year to year. That will give you plenty of valid and reliable information.

Your report was simplistic and negative. I know little about this school, but it may well be that, with a new rector, it is starting to improve. Any school needs time and support to become better. It does not need an ill-informed mauling in the press.

Andrew Scott

Castlegate

Jedburgh

TARGETED TO CREATE HEADLINE

We are responding to last week’s front-page report which targeted one local school to create a headline.

Firstly, it is disappointing and sad that you singled out Jedburgh Grammar School in this way – but, more importantly, you did so using the statistics in a way which distort the results and do not reflect the true picture of our school.

Schools are not one-dimensional and should not be judged as such. Comparing small schools’ quota percentages to larger schools is very misleading.

The general trend is a marked improvement since 2011 in the achievement of pupils. The approach in Jedburgh is that every pupil gets the chance of an award to aspire to their potential. Many pupils are delighted with their results and have stated their teachers work hard to deliver meaningful, constructive lessons to allow pupils to reach their potential.

However, important as results are, many parents send their pupils to Jedburgh Grammar for the strong, caring ethos and the rounded education offered. JGS offers a wide range of academic and vocational courses, and exhibits high-quality work at open evenings.

Our diverse range of sporting achievements is something the school is proud of, and promoting health and well-being is now an important part of a child’s education. Six of our students were involved in two projects in Malawi this summer, indicating the admirable qualities that our senior pupils demonstrated throughout the selection process. The Duke of Edinburgh uptake is also increasing.

There is a wide variety of opportunities in the school.

We are aware that, following your report, head teacher Kevin Ryalls has received many letters of support from parents, pupils, prominent members of the community and parents of former pupils.

The school has excellent community links, as encouraged by the Curriculum for Excellence. Sir Ian Wood, of the Wood Commission, stresses that it is vital for schools to make contact with local businesses to enhance the senior phase. Mr Ryalls has been very proactive in this area – e.g. the success of the recent auction which raised more than £6,000 for the school.

There is no doubt that Mr Ryalls is a focused and impressive leader. He has met the many challenges facing schools at present with vision and energy, and since taking over the headship has made many positive changes. His encouragement of ambition has been key to a change in the school, where staff nurture and encourage children of all abilities to aim high and reach their aspirations.

As a result, Jedburgh Grammar is a school of confident, happy pupils – something all parents value. As in other schools, there are areas for improvement and Mr Ryalls will address these.

Comparisons with other years show steady improvement – the school is definitely going in the right direction. The parent council is confident that, under Mr Ryalls’, leadership and with staff and pupils’ commitment and determination, Jedburgh Grammar School will, in Mr Ryall’s words, continue to punch above its weight.

Jedburgh Grammar School Parent Council

SUPPORT FOR HEAD TEACHER

We were outraged at the sensationalist headline on the front page of The Southern Reporter’s August 7 edition regarding the school exam results which have only just been announced.

We give our full support and backing to head teacher Kevin Ryalls, his staff and his students.

Since Kevin was appointed as head teacher we believe that Jedburgh Grammar School is in a far better position to move the educational needs of all students forward to allow them to gain the qualifications that they require for their chosen profession or further education.

Jedburgh Grammar School has produced some great talent – educationally, sporting or otherwise – which is solely down to the working ethos Mr Ryalls has brought to the school.

The people of Jedburgh are extremely proud of the school, it being an integral part of the community.

We will continue to support such an educational facility like Jedburgh Grammar School and what it stands for in our town.

We will continue to support Mr Ryalls, the staff and the students as they prepare for the forthcoming new school year.

Rory Stewart (IND)

Jim Brown (SNP)

councillors for Jedburgh and District