LOCAL authority education officials, staff and parents were rallying around this morning in a bid to restore shattered morale at Banff Academy, which was this morning revealed as one of Scotland’s poorest secondary schools.
Education Scotland published the damning findings of a recent HMIe inspection of the school this morning which deemed 600-pupil Banff Academy to be "weak" - the second lowest inspection rating - across the board.
Graham Sloan, chairman of Banff Academy’s Parent Support Group, described the report’s findings as "disappointing" but he urged parents, staff and pupils to get behind interim head teacher Andrew Ritchie and Aberdeenshire Council’s bid to turn the school around.
He said: "Like many parents and as the chairman of the parent council at Banff Academy, the results of the HM inspection are very disappointing.
"The quality indicators show a level of weakness over most areas assessed and this is a concern as it’s virtually all-encompassing.
"The level of attainment at Banff Academy has been highlighted over several years and is not a new issue.
"As parents, we need to see improvements across the whole school, including the enhanced provision unit.
"We need to focus on the recommendations from the inspection and move forward.
"Whilst this report is disappointing, we need to remember we have a good school with motivated, happy children, the school has just lost its direction and it’s now for Mr Andrew Ritchie, the interim head teacher, and his staff to get the school back on course.
"I have already had meetings with Mr Ritchie to identify how he will implement the recommendations and the parent council will work with him and the school to support and assist our children to deliver the necessary improvements."
The report, authored by HM education inspector Chris Webb, pointed to "important weaknesses" in various areas of Banff Academy’s support for pupils with additional needs and the under-performance of pupils in S4 to S6 against national benchmarks and criticised other aspects of curriculum provision.
The publication of the report came just six weeks after the school’s former head teacher David Dunn shocked staff and parents when he retired at just two days’ notice in September.
He was replaced by former Banff Academy pupil Andrew Richie, who had previously worked closely with staff at the school in his role as quality improvement officer for the Banff network.
The findings of the report has been seen In many quarters locally as confirmation that Mr Dunn was encouraged to go by Aberdeenshire Council’s education chiefs when indications of the report’s likely findings began to emerge.
Aberdeenshire Council’s education, leisure and learning service is drawing up an action plan to address improvements in performance, learners’ experiences, meeting learning needs, the curriculum and improvement through self-evaluation - all areas which attracted criticism in the report.
"The inspection report confirms our own quality assurance findings into the school’s performance," said director of education, learning and leisure Maria Walker.
"We have been aware of the need to address a number of key issues affecting the school, and will continue to work with the academy to develop an ambitious and effective action plan to deliver improvements over the coming weeks and months.
"The report confirms what we knew about our young people: that they are positive, aspirational and want to be proud of the school.
"The examples of effective practice across the school will be built upon to improve the overall outcomes for children."
Interim head teacher Mr Ritchie, meanwhile, conceded that he, the education service and Banff Academy’s staff and pupils are facing signficant challenges in the coming months.
He said: "While there are indeed significant challenges ahead, I am pleased that the inspectors noted the positive relationships that exist between and among young people and staff.
"In my short time here, I have been impressed with the genuine desire by staff, pupils, the parent council and the wider community for the school to succeed and our positive relationships will be key in supporting improvements at Banff Academy.
"Our first task is to set a clearer vision and direction for the school, improve attainment and ensure a consistent learning experience for pupils, particularly those who require additional support."
The HMIe report will be discussed by local councillors at a future meeting of the Banff and Buchan Area Committee along with the specifics of the education service’s action plan.
Banff and Buchan area committee chairman Councillor John Cox said: "This report is only giving a snapshot and is a platform for moving forward and focusing on the future.
"Attending school pupil events and visiting the school, I am always impressed with the talent, attitude and inspiring culture of the pupils.
"There’s a fantastic bunch of kids at the school and they are supported by good, dedicated staff.
"Putting matters into context, former pupils have gone on to achieve great successes in big corporations, the oil industry and many other industries.
"From sports to music and business, Banff Academy has educated some world-renowned individuals.
"We now need to look forward to further engagement for pupils, parents and the community to develop the strengths the school has and everybody will rise to the challenge to prove why Banff Academy has so much to offer."
Aberdeenshire Council’s education, learning and leisure committee chairman, Councillor Isobel Davidson, said: "Aberdeenshire Council is committed to ensuring all our young people get the best start in life and we will work closely with Education Scotland to build capacity for improvement.
"I believe Andrew Ritchie has the skills and enthusiasm to meet these early challenges and we look forward to the progress and improvements he will undoubtedly make.