Peterhead Academy: What the data actually tells us

Head Teacher Shona Sellers recently attended Buchan Area Committee to discuss attainment data for Peterhead Academy, to August last year, with local elected members. Councillors were understandably keen to see steady improvement and when asked why not all results had improved since 2018, Shona had very openly explained the efforts being made to address some of the most difficult challenges that impact on pupil performance.

Some of this discussion has been reported on in recent media coverage without the context of the data they were discussing at committee…

At S6, the percentage of young people achieving 5 or more awards at SCQF Level 6 improved to its highest level achieved by Peterhead Academy for a number of years. The points-based measures also showed improvement for the most able young people and a stable picture of attainment for the middle attaining 60% of young people.

Yes, there was a mixed picture at S4: this year the percentage of young people attaining five or more qualifications at Level 5 was 41% compared to 43% in 2018. But what wasn’t outlined is that this statistic was around 17% five years ago, demonstrating a significant improvement over time.

What the report to Buchan Area Committee didn’t highlight is the recognised positive achievement of pupils beyond those initial results in August 2019. Why? Well, if you can imagine after a pupil receives their exam results, if they didn’t quite make the grade at National 5, for example, then the school looks at what level they did reach. At Peterhead, those achieving literacy and numeracy at Level 4 was 83% and those achieving literacy and numeracy at Level 5 was 54%. These statistics aren’t reported back to the local authority until much later in the year which is why they didn’t feature in this report.

The reality is 95% of pupils at Peterhead Academy go on to a positive destination.

Head Teacher Shona Sellers explained: “Yes, we have challenges. Yes, we are in an area which has above average levels of deprivation in Aberdeenshire. And yes, last year’s exam results didn’t hit the mark as well as we had enjoyed in 2018. But our issues with attendance (not truancy) are not only related to those living in deprivation and we have seen a marked improvement overall in exam results over the last five years.

“What we are trying to do is engage and inspire pupils to recognise the importance of achieving their full potential, regardless of their background. We go above and beyond to support our young people and we are lucky to have a passionate and dedicated team here at Peterhead.

“For the most part, our probationer teachers choose to stick with us. They enjoy engaging with young people who have ‘spark’ and staffing levels are the best they have been in years. I am absolutely proud of what all members of our school community are achieving together.”

In terms of what’s being done to raise attainment and achievement at the school, it’s worth reading the report online. There are a variety of approaches being undertaken, including:

• Employing a pupil support worker dedicated to tackling attendance with those who struggle most
• Management keeping a much closer eye on any pupil whose attendance falls below 90%.
• More parental meetings with the Head Teacher for pupils who are underperforming.
• Continuing professional development learning and teaching workshops for teachers.
• The introduction of a National 5 Applications of Maths course to increase pass rates.
• Newly appointed principal teachers in literacy and numeracy to better track attainment across all year groups.
• More sessions for parents to help them engage in their children’s learning with confidence. 

All of this is happening in addition to the now award winning PeterDeen scholarship which has inspired a significant improvement in the attitude and motivation of those taking part.

Chair of the Buchan Area Committee, Cllr Norman Smith said: “We’re keen to engage in open and honest discussions with head teachers when they take the time to talk to us about attainment and achievement in their schools. Sometimes that means explaining the most difficult times they have faced but that’s not the whole picture. There is a huge amount of good work going on at the school and they deserve to be recognised for all of their success stories.”

When it comes to how schools are funded and by Aberdeenshire Council, it’s worth noting the substantial investment that goes into Peterhead. Every school receives a baseline budget which is then increased based on need, taking account, for example, of the percentage of pupils receiving free school meals. On top of this, there’s Pupil Equity Funding which is higher for Peterhead because it is aimed at reducing the poverty-related attainment gap, and as well as that there is significant investment into the PeterDeen scholarship.

Craig Clement, Head of Resources and Performance for the local authority’s Education and Children’s Services team added: “In addition to extra funding, our central teams also devote a significant amount of their time and expertise to supporting communities in Peterhead. This means more children’s services and social work staff and more support from our educational psychology team.

“Our approach to delivering additional support needs funding on a cluster basis in the area is being recognised as an example of best practice nationally. What this means is that both primaries and the secondary school are working together to fund the things that make the biggest difference and support the best educational outcomes for our pupils.”