Glowing inspection report for island school under threat of closure

Closure-threatened Uyeasound Primary School in Unst has received an exemplary report following an inspection in March.

HM schools inspector Nick Pepin, who used to teach in Shetland, was impressed by the “stimulating learning experiences” in the 10-pupil school, and in particular the “very strong and productive links” it has with parents and the wider community. This is seen as a vital ingredient in the school’s success.

Coupled with this is the “shared commitment” to leading the school forward among all staff and the “creative vision” and “outstanding leadership” of  headteacher Kate Coutts. The school is also commended for its “outstanding progress” in embracing the Curriculum for Excellence, often using local resources.

Under the council’s Blueprint for Education proposals, which are due to be revised shortly following widespread consultation, Uyeasound is one of the schools earmarked for closure under both best and worst case scenarios.

Spokesman for education Councillor Bill Manson said: “Congratulations to Kate and the pupils of Uyeasound Primary School and all who back them up in whatever way. This is by any standards an outstanding review and a credit to all concerned.”

Dave Thompson, SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands, has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament congratulating the school on the report.

He said: “I am very proud to lodge this motion congratulating Uyeasound Primary School on their fine achievement in their recent inspection. It is a testament to the hard work and dedication of Ms Coutts, her staff, the pupils, their parents and the wider community on Unst, that the school has performed so admirably in their report.

“I would encourage everyone involved with the school to continue with their sterling work to make sure that the school continues to perform in such an inspiring manner.”

The inspection found that children are treated as individuals and feel respected, secure and are developing successfully as learners. Staff help them build on their strengths, develop their self-esteem and celebrate their successes. Children in turn appreciate the care taken by staff to promote their physical, social and emotional wellbeing.

A “highly commendable feature” of the curriculum is the extent to which the “well thought out” learning experiences come in response to suggestions from children and parents.

Children’s contributions to decision making, and working with the community, help to build their confidence.

The report notes that the pupils enjoy school and learning, and are achieving in line with their capabilities. They are interested in a wide range of topics and talk enthusiastically about their projects, helping decide what they will investigate or undertake.

The inspection also found that children support each other very well. They work together in exploring ideas and possible solutions, and approach practical problems, such as creating stained glass panels, with a genuine sense of enquiry.

Pupils listen attentively and talk confidently in discussion, the report says. They are interested in books and reading. Older children can talk about books they have read and identify key features, and mostly write well.

In mathematics, children are mostly making “secure” progress in mental and written calculations.

Younger children use computer applications successfully to identify a variety of two-dimensional shapes. They apply their mathematical skills as part of topics such as their investigation of the bog remains known as Gunnister Man, recording the reductions in size and weight of drying peats and plotting the information in graphs.

The small numbers mean that staff can make very effective use of their detailed knowledge of children and their needs, whether personal, emotional, social or in learning. Support is given to help pupils progress in line with their capabilities. The close involvement of children and their parents in taking decisions about support helps achieve a high rate of success.

In spite of its remote location the school gains much from contacts with other schools and bodies, including those in other countries, via the internet. They are, for example, working with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland to determine the age and precise location of now-ruined crofts. The school has forged many productive links with local musicians, artists and writers. These have helped enrich children’s learning and strengthened their appreciation of Shetland culture.

Another of their interests is the environment, and they are developing a keen awareness of how to improve it. Their work in constructing a greenhouse from empty discarded plastic bottles has won both local and national awards.

Music plays an important part in the school. Pupils welcome visitors and invite them to take part in a short musical welcoming ceremony – several pupils are learning the fiddle and accordion and the “Peerie Fiddlers” play and entertain tourists during the summer months. This also helps boost their confidence.

Pupils are very aware of the importance of eating healthily and physical exercise – apart from school they have after-hours activities, including swimming, badminton and youth club. They have gained accreditation for the school as a health promoting one.

The inspection commends staff for liaising very effectively with parents, consulting and involving them at all stages. The Parent Council, which comprises all parents, is highly appreciative and supportive of the school. Parents are well informed about the work of the school and their children’s progress. They are consulted on a range of issues including health education. Many parents play an active part in helping with school activities.

The school has suitable procedures for responding to any parental complaints. Children are very well supported when they move to Baltasound Junior High School.

Among the staff, the inspection praises their “very strong sense of teamwork”, which sees them combine their talents. They take full account of the views of children and parents, encouraging children to aim high, and provide a “commendably encouraging and nurturing environment within which children thrive and learn”. Children, the report says, behave well and relish the opportunities they have to initiate and lead developments, to represent the school and to enter competitions. For example, they have taken part in photographic and art competitions, music festivals and won the Stevenson Prize for Religious Observance.

The report concludes: “The headteacher provides outstanding leadership. With the very active involvement of parents she has put in place a vision for the school which aligns very closely with Curriculum for Excellence. She enjoys the strong and active support of parents and the full cooperation of staff. All staff willingly assume leadership roles and work closely together to improve further children’s experiences at school. As a result the school provides the highest quality of education for its pupils and is very well placed to continue to improve.”

The inspection identifies only one area for improvement, which is to “continue to improve the school as planned”.


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