School spotlight: The Glasgow Academy

Jo Golding finds out how The Glasgow Academy has created an inclusive environment where pupils feel safe to discover their interests

While The Glasgow Academy has a very modern feel, its history goes all the way back to 1845. It has been through several major changes, for instance, in 1981 girls could apply for the first time and 10 years later the school merged with Westbourne School for Girls.

The school has three sites: Newlands (nursery to P4), Milngavie (nursery to P4) and Kelvinbridge (nursery to S6).

The Kelvinbridge site educates prep schoolers in years P5, P6 and P7 before they make the transition into the senior school located at the same site. Rector Matthew Pearce tells me multiple sites help the school serve different parts of Glasgow, while bringing together prep and senior children at Kelvinbridge helps the younger pupils prepare for their upcoming years.

Pearce joined The Glasgow Academy in August 2015 as deputy rector and said the four years have helped him get to know the school and its community before taking on the lead role. “We’ve also benefited from the fact that I’ve appointed a deputy rector who I have worked with and trust, but he is also still new enough to bring that fresh perspective.”

Five numbers

Founding year: 1845

Pupils: 1,523

Female/male pupils: 732 female, 791 male

Staff: 258

Sites: 3

Having previously worked in the state sector, Pearce highlights the “bigger operation” of an independent school as new to him. He says: “To a large extent in the state sector, the children live locally and there are some clubs to take part in but it’s incomparable to the co-curricular, and now the super-curricular provision, that we’ve got here.

“Our children start coming from seven o’clock in the morning and the school is open to them on a regular day until seven o’clock at night. The amount of co-curricular, the trips that are going on, the sporting programme – it’s a lot bigger than I was used to in the state sector. You read about it, but you only really understand when you’re in the midst of it. We try and give our pupils almost a boarding experience even as a day school.”

Tomorrow’s business leaders

One of the areas where The Glasgow Academy is particularly strong is in pupil leadership. Pearce tells me a lot of the students are active in wanting to make a change, not just to the local community but with bigger, global issues. As a WildHearts partner, the school receives support and training for social, ethical enterprise.

There are 1,523 pupils at The Glasgow Academy

Many of the pupils take part in WildHearts’ entrepreneurial training programme Micro-Tyco, which enables them to practice business behaviour in a smaller environment. They’re given £1 which they must grow into as much money as possible over one month.

“They’re trying to empower young people to help solve global issues. Since, we’ve had young people speaking in our assemblies to their peers about how to protect the environment and there was also a 500-person petition put to me for us to stop having single-use plastics bottles in the school. After the October break, we will no longer allow single-use plastic bottles.”

We want every young person to feel really passionate about at least one particular subject or aspect of their learning

An area the academy is developing at the moment is its super-curriculum and Pearce says pupil-led societies are on the rise. The school is also enjoying Friday lunchtime lectures, where teachers speak about topics of interest – a benefit to both the students and the teachers.

Pearce adds: “For the first time we’ve taken significant part in the Extended Project Qualification. The aim of all of this is to really engage pupils in learning and help them better prepare for life after the academy so they’re choosing employment or education in areas that they have a real deep-rooted interest in.

“We want every young person to feel really passionate about at least one particular subject or aspect of their learning. It’s an enjoyment and thirst for learning that helps people get those qualifications. It’s this learning and striving that we want from pupils, rather than the need for qualifications, in a way.”

However, pupils with a particular interest in science and technology are in luck because the school opened a new facility, The Saunders Centre, in 2016 that’s proving popular. It features 15 science labs, a 166-seat auditorium, a food technology department, meeting rooms and a range of study and social facilities.

Five facts

1. In 1981, The Glasgow Academy admitted girls for the first time

2. In 1991, it merged with Westbourne School for Girls

3. The Glasgow Academy was the first school in Scotland to achieve The Diana Award Gold Standard

4. The Saunders Centre, the school’s technology and science hub, has a 166-seat auditorium which is available to hire

5. Matthew Pearce started at the school in 2015 as deputy rector but became rector this year

National recognition

The Glasgow Academy has been recognised for its work with a number of awards – most recently with the Rights Respecting Schools Award from Unicef. The prep school has the gold award and the senior school has just been awarded silver. The award recognises the school’s achievement in creating safe and inspiring places to learn and embedding those values in daily school life. The award uses the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as a guide.

The school has also been awarded the Platinum award from Investors in People, and its prep school was the first school in Scotland to achieve The Diana Award Gold Standard for its anti-bullying work.

I asked Pearce what makes the school a success and while he admits “we’re not perfect”, he highlights the commitment to improvement as a standout factor.

“I think it’s the shared commitment we have to continuous improvement and providing the very best for our children. We don’t perceive ourselves to be perfect. We’re good at identifying areas for improvement. There’s a real commitment throughout the whole staff to work with other people and learn from them. There’s this sense of community that’s warm, supportive and inclusive.”

You might also like: School spotlight: Portland Place School

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