The Good Schools Guide is famed for its independence and uncompromising editorial stance. The latest review of Glenalmond College is available to read here...
'I’d follow that woman to the ends of the earth': well ,how often have you heard a member of staff say that about a headteacher? No - us too. So I think it’s fair to say that in a year and a half, Elaine Logan has really left her mark on Glenalmond College. Not to say that there wasn’t a surprised shiver running through some parents and teachers when they announced the appointment in 2015. Ms Logan is not only the first female warden ( about time!), but she was taking on a school that is famously traditional and which had been slumbering and dribbling on its laurels for too long.
So, the facts: Elaine Logan is married with three adult children. MA University of Edinburgh,PGCE Moray House, PGC counselling Heriot-Watt University, PGC pupil support University of Aberdeen. She started at Glenalmond in August 2015. Her career began in state schools in Fife, before teaching posts at nearby Dollar Academy and Loretto outside Edinburgh. Rising to assistant head at Loretto over a period of 14 years, she was well-liked and respected, but was raised to near iconic status by stepping into the breach when the headteacher role was unexpectedly and hurriedly vacated. Far from papering over the cracks, she steered a floundering school towards calmer waters with great aplomb and sensitivity. Top marks.
One of the biggest changes since Elaine Logan has arrived at Glenalmond has been ‘improving academic rigour and ambition’. This has been achieved by introducing The Learning Project - a big name for a radical restructuring of the way the children and the teachers are monitored and taught. Ms Logan says that 18 months ago when she took over there was an opportunity to look at the school in a stark and pared back way and re-evaluate what ‘we’re good at and what we can do better’. Head of learning, Dr Matt Gibson, says, ‘We did lesson observations, we trailed kids for the day, we did surveys and we did questionnaires.The warden fully embraced this.’
The idea is that ‘no-one is alone and that everyone is supported’. Teachers now routinely observe each other's lessons to spread good practice and help eliminate the bad and are coached and supported if improvements are needed. Meanwhile, the pupils' academic and social movements are now closely tracked, with regular meetings between house teachers, academic teachers and senior staff to evaluate progress and pastoral needs. Prep is now being monitored for all but upper sixth (one parent told us their child was thrilled by this development as they were actually getting work done). In addition, there are tutorials to help pupils develop core skills for learning including essay planning, revision strategies, mind-mapping, time management, literacy and numeracy foundation skills.
Housemaster Guy Draper Colford says they are all discussing pupils and their welfare far more than they used to. Sharing best practice is common and all the house staff have meet every week to discuss pupils and their progress. Senior management aren’t being left on the shelf either. They’re being trained to manage their departments in a more effective and supportive way.
So a huge upskilling all round, but is it working? Apparently! Education Scotland is recommending they spread this good practice asap. Meanwhile, parents we spoke to felt that both the children and the teaching standards are beginning to reap the benefits. '[My son] actually looks forward to his supervised study…incredible. He says Mrs Logan should be the next prime minister.’ ‘For the first time in ages, there’s a real buzz about the place. And they love Elaine Logan. She’s disciplined, fair and gets their vote every time.’ ‘They really like her. They respect her. She’s a real dynamo and gets things done.’
Glenalmond will never be an academic hothouse, but Elaine Logan wants us to judge them on how much the pupils improve on their journey through the school. 2016 saw the third best GCSE performance ever with 48 per cent A*/A* grades. At A level, 26 per cent A*/A and 55 per cent A*-B. They also maintain that every child made it to their first choice university and many surpassed their expectations. As Ms Logan says, ‘There were far fewer parents and pupils outside my door looking worried after the results compared to the previous year.’
Subjects on offer cover the usual spectrum from politics to history of art (26 subjects on offer at A level) and are now being supplemented by Mandarin and computer science at GCSE and computer science at A level, plus they’re looking to add a GCSE in dance in September 2017. They stress they don’t currently offer Highers as some other Scottish public schools do, which means that they don’t siphon off less bright candidates to improve their position on the results league table. This may change, however, as they look to broaden choices in the post-16 age group. They still had the second best A level results in Scotland in 2016.
A significant proportion of the school is involved with the learning support department at some level. This ranges from extra time in exams all the way through to a reader and a scribe. There is a policy of free screening for all pupils who enter the school in second, third or fourth form. Thereafter there are charges for eg additional assessments and individual support sessions.
There’s a prep club at break and lunchtimes so more support on offer then.
The staff ratio is particularly good at 1:7 and class sizes rarely exceed 16. The bottom sets may have as few as six or seven pupils. They recruited heavily for new staff in 2016 (there was a lot of stagnation to deal with in our view) and the results are new faces with enthusiasm and drive. Another school head has commented that there seems to be a real buzz about the school and they are attracting some real talent to their ranks.
One of the major changes is a complete restructuring of the sports department so that it functions co-educationally ie boys' and girls' games are given equal billing (rather than the rugger buggers hogging the limelight). This change has been implemented by a new director of sport, Andy Rowley, who was a headmaster down south, but wanted to get back to the coal face of teaching, apparently. He comes with a new head of rugby, Graham Smith, who as a former Fife development coach brings new links to the rugby pathway system and possible international progression. Touch rugby has also been introduced for girls. In fact the school now has heads for hockey, lacrosse and rugby and hopefully soon tennis, golf and cricket. Andy Rowley says one of the best things about Glenalmond is the great support the parents give to sport.
Parity has also been brought for the firsts lacrosse team, who now share the former firsts rugby pitch, Neish’s, as it’s known. This has been revamped and a new stand has been built (this time facing the right way ie towards the beautiful hills). The sporting facilities also include a first class swimming pool and now an Olympic standard water-based hockey pitch, which has already hosted some international players.
They’re not the most amazing sporting facilities that you will come across but, as elsewhere in the school, the ambition seems to be big. There are also plans to make more of what is a truly fabulous outdoor location. There is a school golf course and the possibility of fishing on the river Almond, which flows through the school. Duke of Edinburgh Awards are enthusiastically pursued, as are clay pigeon shooting, tennis, white water rafting, skiing. The activity programme is booted up further at the weekend, and at Cairnies, the newly created junior boys' house (second and third form), there are compulsory activities so that they are kept busy.
Expressive arts has always been somewhat understated at Glenalmond, but there are plans to improve this starting with the introduction of dance at GCSE. With the old warden’s house now being repatriated as an admin hub, there is also a permanent display area for any artistic endeavour, while neatly putting it in front of any prospective parents.
Girls are being given a bigger slice of the pie and are being 'promoted' to the Quad. This is the Oxbridge-style area at the heart of the school, traditionally the site of three boys' houses. Now one of them, Goodacres, is being made over to girls. Neighbouring boys' house Patchell's is the Testosterone Towers of the school, housing a lot of the rugby boys in long dorms with something akin to horse boxes. They seem to love it, though. Another house, Cairnies, formerly for fifth form girls, is being turned into a junior house for second and third form boys - increasing in numbers apparently due to more pupils arriving from destinations other than traditional prep schools.
Elaine Logan says that one of the USPs of the place is that all of the staff live on site, so the pupils get to see them in their civvies and leading a normal life. Relationships tend to be stronger because this ‘really is a full boarding school’, but be warned if your child doesn’t fit in, there is very little escape.
‘How many schools have a front and back avenue, Mum?’ Well, probably more than we realise, but it does emphasise the sheer grandeur of the place both in architectural and scenic terms. Going down the drive on a warm summer’s day (they do happen, apparently) or a crisp winter one with snow on the hills can be an uplifting experience. The school was founded by the former prime minister William Gladstone to keep young men free ‘from the sins of the city’, and to a certain extent that still happens. Sadly, after years of dodgy mobile phone reception, the pupils can call out with ease, but there is still a feeling of beautiful isolation which helps keep the worst offenders out of trouble, and if your child is sociable and likes the outdoors, they will probably form friendships to last a lifetime. Be prepared to blink when you see the school uniform. The boys are traditional in grey flannels and blazers, with tweed jackets for upper sixth. But the girls, well the girls have navy floor-length skirts. ‘Victorian parlour maids’ was one description, but according to the school the girls are adamant they won’t have it any other way. Reports say they enjoy wearing their pyjamas and wellies underneath in bad weather, so who could blame them? And Mrs Logan believes it helps with evening out those body image crises that so many other schools have to deal with.
The school has now appointed a deputy head of pastoral care who oversees the eight housemasters/mistresses and there is far more exchanging of information so that nobody slips through the net. House staff and teachers meet weekly to discuss pupils, especially any there are concerns about.
Discipline appears to have improved since the arrival of the new warden. Drugs have never really been an issue at the school, but alcohol could be. This, parents say, has definitely been tightened up, although the occasional lapse still occurs.
A high 70 per cent are UK boarders. The school has traditionally been the 'county' choice, or 'tweed central', as some have dubbed it, so many from surrounding Perthshire, Angus, Fife and Aberdeenshire, and the other 30 per cent are international with Germany leading the table. You are less likely to get hard-working lawyer or property developer parents and more likely to see well-heeled farmers and castle dwellers.
Common entrance is on the wane, apparently with less coming in from the prep route, so the school tests independently for maths and English. There is no waiting list so entry is fairly straightforward at the moment if you wave a cheque book, but with the new buzz around the place this may well change.
Around half to Russell Group universities including Oxbridge (two in 2016, and two vets), with a trickle to American universities.
They stress they don’t buy in talent, so no 100 per cent scholarships for the rugby gorillas, but they do support four pupils every year on a bursary basis of 90 to 100 per cent. This isn’t based purely on academic potential, but if there is a child who would clearly benefit from the boarding experience then they will try to help. The total remission pot is £2 million a year of which the lion's share goes to bursaries. Scholarships get the usual 10 per cent reduction. Most applicants will try for both.
Get in fast, Glenalmond is on the up and up. Inspirational is one of those over-used words but it really does seem to apply to the warden Elaine Logan. If they can continue to combine academic rigour and making use of their spectacular setting then Glenalmond is set for a cracking future over the next few years.
Read the full review on the Good Schools Guide website.
Or come and see for yourself! Come and visit, meet the Warden, staff and pupils, and find out more about life at Glenalmond.