Article from the Parent Power section of the Sunday Times website - included below with the kind permission of the Sunday Times
Sunday Times Scottish State Secondary School of the Year
Boroughmuir High School By Sue Leonard
Boroughmuir rises three places, up from joint 12th last year and 12th the year before, based on a three-year average of its exam results between 2009-11, which saw the percentage of pupils achieving five or more Standard Grade/Intermediate 2s at credit level jump by 6% to 65.3%, boosted by an exceptional performance by last year’s S4 pupils.
The proportion of pupils achieving five or more Highers at grades A-C by the end of S6 rose from 42.7% to 44.7% over the same period. This year’s results — 67% and 57% respectively — reflect the upward trajectory of this co-educational, non-denominational comprehensive school where 60% of pupils go on to higher education, with destinations regularly including Oxford and/or Cambridge universities.
“Our pupils have huge aspirations and we help them achieve them,” says David Dempster, who has temporarily taken over the reigns from permanent head, Jack Hamilton, who is on secondment to the city council where he is working on management reorganisation for promoted teaching staff.
“In this school it is cool to be clever. We have experienced a tipping point where the majority of the school community want to be part of the successful machine. They want to do their best for themselves and the school,” says Dempster, who taught physics at Boroughmuir for 15 years before going into management.
There is competition for places, even though 20% to 25% of the annual intake comes from outside the catchment area due to the fact that so many within it go to the local private schools. Nonetheless, about 40 non-catchment requests are turned down each year and parents are prepared to move and pay premium prices for home s in areas that will secure their child a place at the best state school in Edinburgh .
“It is a very popular school,” says Dempster, unapologetically. Boroughmuir is bursting at the seams with 1,158 pupils, and few students leave before they have to. This year, just six pupils left after S4, resulting in a 194-strong fifth form. The sixth form is 170 students.
Dempster dismisses the idea the school is in competition with its independent neighbours. “We are doing what we think is right for our pupils, but a lot of what we do is similar to what a lot of Edinburgh ‘s private schools are doing.” High expectations, committed staff and a strong partnership between teachers, pupils and parents, all of whom play a role in the thriving extracurricular programme, underpin the success of Boroughmuir, as does the regular tracking, inclusiveness and community.
“We do want a sense of connection to our school,” says Dempster. “We believe uniform is one way of doing it.” The school is even developing a dress code for PE.
Strong senior role models are Dempster’s most powerful tool. “Me giving the message in a school is not enough. It needs to come from the pupil body itself,” says the acting head, who wastes no opportunity to give senior pupils responsibilities from acting as tour guides to the many delegations of teachers and professionals that visit the school to being prefects or house captains.
“We have worked very hard to develop a culture where the senior pupils promote the ethos and values for us on a day-to-day, minute-by-minute basis.”
While the school’s 99-year-old listed building is set to be replaced by a purpose-built school just down the road in 2016 boasting bigger classrooms, better on-site sports facilities and flexible learning spaces, the limitations of Boroughmuir’s present abode have clearly been no bar to achievement inside and outside the classroom.
Pupils are involved in activities ranging from the annual Shakespeare Schools Festival and fundraising to debating, music, netball and rugby. This year’s annual ‘freshers’ fair’ for first years saw 621 applications to 31 sports clubs and extracurricular activities, while more than 100 pupils are involved in the popular Duke of Edinburgh award scheme. Boroughmuir’s website is constantly updated with news of pupils’ successes.
“We are delighted it is the school it is and we want to make it even better,” says Dempster.