Bell’s Brae under fire from inspectors
By RYAN TAYLOR
THE headteacher of Bell’s Brae Primary School in Lerwick has defended her leadership after it came under fire in a government inspection report.
Margaret Rorie said some aspects of the inspectors’ findings, published this week following a visit in March, appeared to be contradictory.
The report found different aspects of the headteacher’s leadership were “weak” or merely “adequate”.
Staff, it said, did not feel part of a team and parents were often left in the dark as to how their children were progressing through the curriculum.
It concluded: “Overall, the school lacked a sense of teamwork and a significant number of staff felt isolated.
The school’s approaches to monitoring and evaluating its work were weak. Procedures lacked rigour and did not focus sufficiently on improving learning and teaching.”
Inspectors also found that pupils were not well enough encouraged to be independent and actively involved in learning.
Across the school, they said, the overall quality of learning and teaching was too variable.
Mrs Rorie, who is due to retire in October, said the general feeling in the school was very positive, although she admitted there would always be some concerns in a school as big as Bell’s Brae.
“In other parts of the report it does say staff work very well together, and it would seem to be a contradiction to say they don’t work as a team,” she said.
“If staff feel isolated that is something that would need to be investigated further, but I don’t feel that is the case. There are lots of opportunities for staff to work together.
“Everything in the school is done to make sure staff are included, but it is a big school, and there always could be one or two members of staff who feel isolated.”
She added that a questionnaire was sent out to parents following the inspection, the feedback from which was broadly positive.
“Parents feel that school letters and newsletters sent out to them are very informative,” she said.
“Some want more information about what their child is doing. I think there is a difference here between giving parents general information about the school and specific information about their children.”
Mrs Rorie said an extra parents’ evening would be organised during the school year in future to help alleviate any concerns held by parents.
Head of the SIC’s education department Helen Budge said the issue of staff concerns required to be dealt with.
“The aspect about staff feeling isolated is something we need to pick up on, and that’s about communication,” she said.
“Staff working together as a team is currently very clear in a lot of the work that is ongoing.
“Perhaps it may seem contradictory, but we need to consider everything HMI saw in their snap-shot inspection of Bell’s Brae Primary.
“We can certainly recognise that staff are working together, but if staff are saying they are feeling isolated that is something we need to take on board.”
The tenor of the report was broadly positive, and the inspectors did conclude that the headteacher demonstrated a strong commitment to the school.
Comments contained within the report that she had “well-established relationships with staff, pupils and most parents” perhaps hint at one of the main contradictions Mrs Rorie spoke about.
It also said she gave a good level of support to the work of the nursery, and had successfully led the development of some key aspects of the curriculum, such as health education.
In particular, Bell’s Brae was found to be a good environment for learning, where arrangements for pupils’ care and welfare were very good.
Pupils were well behaved, and the school had high standards of quality in music, art and PE.
Inspectors also concluded it had a good attainment in English language, with children in the nursery classes making “very good progress” in the development of communication and language skills.
The report also said staff understood the procedures for dealing with child protection and anti-bullying issues.
But it found weaknesses in self evaluation, concluding staff were not sufficiently involved in ensuring continuous improvement at the school.
Mrs Budge said that issue in particular was something that needed to be addressed.
“Self evaluation is something that has been developing over a number of years,” she said.
“It’s something we recognise we need to work on across the whole authority.”
She added teachers would always have concerns about “information sharing” in a school where large numbers of staff are involved.
The school has a roll of 367 pupils, including 48 children in the nursery classes and 20 pupils in the additional support needs department.
An action plan will be rolled out over the next couple of months, which will aim to address the report’s criticisms.