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Building a structure that's fit for purpose

By Philip Black Head teacher, Bell Baxter High School

As the head of one of the largest schools in Scotland shows, lateral thinking is often required to meet the challenges facing the modern school.

Bell Baxter High School serves the rural town of Cupar and a number of villages in north east Fife. With a roll of more than 1800 pupils, 173 staff and 19 associated primaries, we remain one of the biggest schools in Scotland. This presents us with an almost unique set of challenges and opportunities to deliver a first-class education for all our pupils.

Staffing model

TP21 provided the opportunity to review our leadership and management structure and to address the key challenges posed by "Time to Teach" and "Better Behaviour - Better learning". 'Curriculum for Excellence (CfE)' further challenged us to provide a more coherent, flexible and enriched curriculum based on the needs of all pupils. Our staffing model aims to promote leadership at all levels and encourages a collegiate approach to curriculum development and the delivery of effective teaching and learning.

I am now supported by a senior leadership team including three depute rectors with strategic remits including: the curriculum, performance and improvement, learning and teaching, and a business manager with responsibility for finance, resources and health and safety.

The leadership and management of learning and teaching is now organised on a faculty basis with curriculum leaders broadly responsible for the areas of the curriculum identified in "Building the Curriculum 3". Pupil support has been reorganised as a pastoral team with six principal teachers (pupil support) appointed to manage pastoral care and also act as year heads.

While all staff are aware of the key role they play in the support of pupils, a new pupil services team is in place to provide a safe, secure and inclusive environment for all pupils. The team is led by the pupil services manager and supported by a home school link officer and two school support officers.

Operational management

A school management team, including curriculum leaders and principal teachers (pupil support), is responsible for the operational management of the school and for advising the senior leadership team on strategy and policy development.

Our improvement plan is focused on raising attainment and a major review of the curriculum is underway. A curriculum strategy group developed a rationale for change matched to the purpose and principles of CfE. The group focused on key issues including the need to:

  • Engage with all staff
  • Ensure leadership roles were distributed
  • Tailor this national initiative to match our school circumstances
  • Focus on outcomes for learners
  • Engage with the wider school community.

This group has been a major driver of change and produced a strategy paper from a collegiate planning workshop. Our curriculum framework has been changed to allow personalisation and choice for pupils at the end of S1. Staff were asked to describe 'the best ever S1 experience for pupils' and these descriptors make up an S1 curriculum booklet shared across the school. The new S1 experience is underway and engages learners in fun and motivating lessons. Pupils and staff are largely positive about the S1 experience.

Developing the curriculum

With the S1 experience in place staff are now focused on developing the S2/S3 experience based on a core curriculum reflecting the eight areas of the curriculum and a degree of choice. There is clear evidence of staff across each faculty working together to deliver courses firmly based on outcomes with a more coherent experience for all pupils.

Developing the curriculum in this way has been a challenging task for all staff. Many have had to come to terms with the fundamental shift in emphasis from 'content' to 'outcomes', while others have been extremely enthusiastic about the opportunities available to change the curriculum on offer.

While I accept that we still have a long way to go before fully implementing a new curriculum we are now well placed to move forward. With a new leadership model and staff engaged in transforming 'how' and 'what' we teach, in my view, Bell Baxter is ready to face the challenges presented by the senior phase of the curriculum and to respond to the issues related to new assessment and reporting arrangements.

October 2009