Education leader backs weak school

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THE newly appointed councillor in charge of education in the Borders says a primary school which was criticised by inspectors has a bright future.

Tweedbank primary and nursery was deemed weak in two of three key areas this week, with an HM Inspectorate of Education (HMIe) team identifying behaviour issues among pupils, problems with English and maths, and a lack of stable leadership over a number of years.

HMIe and Scottish Borders Council (SBC) stepped in immediately after the April visit to provide support.

However, Sandy Aitchison, SBC’s executive member for education, is confident the 230-pupil school can improve.

He told TheSouthern: “We have read the report and, as with every school report, we take note of the findings and will act accordingly.

“SBC will put in place all the necessary steps to address the recommendations and will work with the school and the parent council to ensure a bright future for all the children in this school. Indeed this work has already begun.”

In a letter to parents, HM inspector Graham Norris noted that staff were committed and caring, and offered a range of out-of-school activities.

He added that nursery classes were well behaved and primary children were keen to take responsibility for their own learning.

“But when lessons do not give them scope to learn in this way, or are too predictable, many become disengaged and a few are disruptive,” said Mr Norris.

He later added: “Several members of staff support children’s learning in and out of the classroom. At times this support is helpful and well focused, but all too often it is used for managing behaviour.”

In relation to pupils’ learning, Mr Norris wrote: “In the primary, a few children are achieving well in aspects of English, such as reading, and where recent initiatives to improve writing are helping at some stages.

“A few are doing well in areas of mathematics, including, for example, problem solving and mental calculation.

“Progress from stage to stage in English and mathematics is not good enough for the majority of children, however.

“Many children find listening and talking difficult. Children in both the nursery and primary classes now need to be taught when and how to apply their literacy and numeracy skills readily and flexibly across the curriculum.”

On leadership, the inspector said the lack of a long-term headteacher has hindered sustained improvement.

Leaderdale and Melrose councillor Jim Torrance, who lives in Tweedbank and was previously chair of the parent council, has promised to discuss the report’s findings with the school, which was extended and refurbished 12 months ago at a cost of £1.5million.

He told us: “I will support the school in any way I can.

“I know, having served as chairman of the parent council at Tweedbank, that it has been a really good school for many years, so I am surprised to hear about the findings of the inspector’s report. It is quite concerning to hear that behaviour is an issue. It may be due to the attitude of the modern-day youth or maybe it is a problem in the classroom. But I want to help Tweedbank improve as a school over the coming years.”

Alyson Weir became permanent Tweedbank headteacher last summer, after Gary Scott’s appointment as an army padre.

She admitted this week that the school had “much work to do”.

She said: “My staff are all hugely committed to moving forward together and doing the very best for all Tweedbank pupils.

“Many children in our school demonstrate positive attributes such as self-reliance, confidence, responsibility, respect for themselves and others and, where children are doing well in aspects of their learning, this must be promoted throughout school.

“I am positive that the whole school community can work together to support our pupils and school in moving forward to make Tweedbank Primary School realise its full potential.”

Dan Pulman, parent council chair, said: “I am confident that, with the full support of the community and the council, we will meet any targets set in the HMIe inspection.”

An SBC spokesman said inspectors will return to Tweedbank in 12 months to check on its progress.