Students take over island school


THE only high school on a remote Scottish island has allowed pupils to take over from teachers.

But unlike William Golding’s hit novel Lord of the Flies – where a student-run island society descends into chaos and violence – this island school has seen a 14% increase in exam passes.

The 230-pupil Tobermorey High School on the Isle of Mull has given their pupils more control over their curriculum by encouraging them to plan their own lessons.

The changes were made two years ago after staff reported that pupils were “manipulating” them to be “spoonfed” information, rather than actively engaging with the curriculum.

Staff also feared that as a result of their apathy and laziness they were not achieving the exam grades they were truly capable of.

The children are planning lessons
The children are planning lessons


But since implementing the changes their National 3-5 and Higher exam results are at the highest level for over 10 years – rising from 80.2% to 94.5% in 2014 – 2015.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) union said: “I’m wary of any one approach being seen as the ‘golden ticket’, but there are certainly merits in this system.”

“Lead learners” have been introduced in classrooms and given duties including writing learning outcomes and running meetings.

They also help to plan units of work for students and give feedback to teachers.

The idea was implemented in 2013 using research methods from professor John Hattie’s 2008 book, Visible Learning, which includes an analysis of over 50,000 educational research pieces.

Richard Gawthorpe, deputy head at Tobermory High School said: “Initially, some staff were sceptical and became too hung up on the technicalities rather than how the research could inform decisions that they had to make.

“I think it was helped to clarify clear areas for focus and improvement and has been one of the main drivers behind change in the school.”

Since the changes the school has also reported that more than 84% of pupils are “always” or “often” clear about what they are learning.

However, headteacher Craig Biddick said that the time and workload were “the biggest enemy” and that staff also felt “uncertainty and anxiety” following the new changes which put students at the helm.

He added that there was an “urgent need” for Scottish schools to make the primary curriculum “more flexible and challenging”

Tobermorey High School is one of the fifteen schools from around the world that features in Professor Hattie’s new book, Visible Learning in Action.

He credits the secondary school for making changes to increase exam results and for changing the mindset of pupils.

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