HMIe Report on Portree High School

Portree High School was inspected in March 2006 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, computing, biology and S1/2 science departments and the provision for Gaelic medium education.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education commented on various strengths and made recommendations on how the school could be further improved. 

HM Inspectors identified the following key strengths:

Inspectors noted that around one sixth of parents returned their questionnaires and most were positive about most aspects of the school.  They felt their children enjoyed being at school and were made to feel welcome.  Pupils gave largely positive responses, reporting that the very few incidents of bullying which occurred were dealt with well by staff.  Inspectors also commented on the school’s clear and effective procedures for dealing with bullying. 

Inspectors found that in general pupils were hard working and well behaved.  Many pupils engaged in a wide range of extra curricular activities which helped them to grow in self-confidence and develop their self-esteem.  The school effectively promoted attendance at after-school clubs including revision clubs.  Many subject departments organised events and outings directly linked to enhancing pupils’ learning experiences, and good attention was paid to developing pupils’ enterprise and citizenship skills. 

Overall, the curriculum was judged to be broad and balanced and of good quality. Commendably, over half of the subjects studied in S1 were available for fluent speakers through the medium of Gaelic, with most of these also available in S2.  Links with associated primary schools were described as well established in some areas and developing in others.

Inspectors observed that the school was widening pupils’ options through the provision of subjects such as geology, human biology, hospitality, construction skills, electronics, psychology and philosophy.  The teaching in the core subjects of English and mathematics was found to be generally good with pupils behaving well and working conscientiously.  There was particular praise for the work done by Advanced Higher pupils in S6 in these subjects.  However, there was a wide variation in the quality of learning and teaching across the school.  A number of staff had not recognised the need to develop their approaches to teaching to ensure high quality learning experiences for all pupils. 

The school had good partnerships with parents and the community.  Annual reports to parents on their children’s progress were informative.  The termly Skyelines news-sheet and the school website kept them in touch with school events.  However, the school needed to consult parents more often. 

The school had developed some generally effective arrangements for ensuring the care and welfare and protection of pupils, and the curricular and vocational guidance given to pupils had many strengths.  Support for learning teachers were very committed to the welfare of pupils and they were effective in supporting pupils when they worked in the support base. 

The head teacher, John Howieson, was committed, caring and approachable.  He had successfully promoted Gaelic medium provision and was clear how this could be further developed.  He had also improved the curriculum through widening vocational opportunities and developed productive partnerships with the community.  Pupils’ wider achievements were promoted effectively.  However, the school lacked a clear strategic vision shared by all members of the school community.  Weaknesses in learning and in meeting pupils’ needs had not been identified and addressed with staff.  Senior managers were committed and hard working.  They had been successful in forming good links with Portree High School Pupil Residence and in managing the support for learning department.  However, senior managers had not addressed important weaknesses which were identified in the school’s approach to evaluating its work. 

Main points for action identified that the school and the education authority should take immediate action to improve the learning experiences of pupils and to meet their needs more effectively.  In doing so they should improve the corporate leadership of the school by improving the leadership for learning of all staff, including senior and middle managers and improve the quality of learning and teaching.

In addition they should introduce effective arrangements for evaluating and improving the work of the school and improve the climate for learning and relationships amongst all staff.  They should also ensure that the current accommodation is made safe and secure and appropriate for learning.

Mr John Howieson, head teacher, welcomed the inspectors’ observations.  He said: “We were already embarked on a number of the changes which the HMIe told us they would like to see. For example, the Inspectors said our S5 Higher results could be better: however, since the Inspection we have had the 2006 SQA exam results, and S5 Higher statistics have now shown a continuing trend of improvement over the past three years, and are now – like our Standard Grades – well above the national averages.

“I am currently working with senior officers of the Authority to develop our action plan to meet the report’s recommendations. I have told our staff that I look forward to working together with them to ensure the school’s future success. We of course also have the very exciting prospect of moving into our new, state-of-the-art school – with wonderful, new ICT equipment – in less than two years, with work now well underway. Our pupils deserve the best possible education, and that is what we are here to provide.”

Robert Muir, Chair of Portree High School Board, said: "Whilst I am pleased that the report does recognise some of the very good work that is taking place at Portree High School, there are clearly a number of important challenges to be met. The School Board will be meeting later this week to discuss how we can support the school's senior management team in bringing about the improvements we would wish to see in the future."

Bruce Robertson, Director of Education, Culture & Sport Service, noted a number of positives in the report but recognised that there were some serious concerns on a number of issues.  He said: “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. For some time prior to the inspection, we have been working with the school on a range of improvement actions. One particular issue that must be addressed is for the staff in the school to work together as a team with common goals. 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 that within two years the new Portree High School would be open and would give the pupils, staff and the community at large a state of the art facility which would lead to a much enhanced learning, cultural and sporting environment for all. 

29 Aug 2006