Lochaber High School was inspected in September 2005 as part of a national sample of secondary education, covering key aspects of the school’s work at all stages. There was a particular focus on the work of the English, mathematics, languages and religious and moral education departments.
Inspectors judged most pupils to be well behaved and conscientious. Some engaged in a wide range of extra curricular activities, and a number represented the area at both regional and national levels in musical and sporting activities. There had been a steady improvement in attendance and achievement.
Overall the curriculum was judged to be adequate, was broad and balanced and met the needs of most pupils. Attainment across all stages had been steadily improving over the last three years and in some measures pupils now performed better than schools with similar characteristics. There had been some very good examples of teachers using a variety of approaches to encourage pupils to take responsibility for their learning. ICT was very well used in some areas especially in science subjects and there were some very good examples of support for pupils’ learning in mainstream classes. However, teaching and learning was variable across departments and individual teachers. School guidelines were insufficiently robust to direct the work of the staff and to ensure consistency of practice.
The school had developed some generally effective arrangements for ensuring the care and welfare and protection of pupils and a healthy lifestyle was promoted appropriately across the school. The overall quality of curricular and vocational guidance was judged to be good. However, important weaknesses were found in the arrangements for meeting the learning needs of pupils with complex additional support needs. Pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties were reported to be very well supported by staff in the Pupil Support Base who had developed very good partnerships with both parents and staff in the rest of the school.
Some important weaknesses were identified in the leadership and management of the school. The head teacher had a vision for the school but had not been fully successful in communicating this to staff and gaining their support. The depute head teachers had achieved some success in aspects of their individual remits but did not operate coherently as a team. However, senior management links with departments were judged to be insufficiently challenging or supportive. Important weaknesses were identified in the school’s approaches to evaluating its work and clear action plans required to be in place to ensure continuous improvement.
Rector Donnie Campbell said: "We’re pleased the inspection has recognised our much improved attainment, our wide range of extra-curricular activities and the good teaching and learning. This is all made possible by a hard-working, committed staff and we will all be working very hard together over the next few years to ensure that the improvements also identified by the inspectors are delivered."
Hilary Hemm, Chairman of the High School Board, said: "It is pleasing to see the strengths recognised in the school in some subject attainments, the use of ICT in science, the work of the Pupil Support Base and in extra-curricular activities. It was good to see that the learning, teaching and achievement of pupils and staff were classified as "good" in most areas. There are other areas where the Inspectors have recommended that action needs to be taken. The Board has not yet had an opportunity to meet and discuss the Inspectors’ findings. We anticipate meeting to do so in the near future and to work with the School on the Action Plan which will be developed in the next few weeks and worked on in the coming months."
Councillor Michael Foxley, education portfolio holder for Lochaber, said: "While this independent inspection has praised several good areas of activity within the school, serious concerns have been raised about other aspects of it’s work. These will need to be addressed by an action team – who have already begun work. Through the Budget Working Group, I have been working with officials to assemble the funding required for a major phased upgrade of the building – a final decision on which will be made soon."
Bruce Robertson, Director of Education Culture and Sport, noted a number of positives in the report but recognised that there were some serious concerns on a range of issues.
He said: "For some time prior to the inspection, we have been working with the school on a range of improvement actions. The recommendations made by the inspectors following their inspection underline the need to maintain a rigorous improvement agenda and we will be directing enhanced professional expertise towards the school. We will be closely monitoring the progress of the improvement plan and reporting this to parents, the school board and elected members."
Mr Robertson said the Council had already committed £3.6 million of investment to improving the fabric of the school building and in the near future the Council would be considering devoting further funding which would result in the complete refurbishment of the school.