Mearns Academy – Moving On

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The building of a new Mearns Academy has brought a fantastic facility to the Mearns,    for both the school community and local community. The rector who oversaw this  change, Ian Parkin, wrote a series of articles about the history of the school. We are  delighted he is happy for us to share them with you on the K&M Communities site.

He started by looking at secondary education in Laurencekirk and how it has changed since 1895.

  1. A Changing School

As we near the opening of the new facility that will be Mearns Academy Community Campus it is appropriate to reflect on other previous changes to secondary education in the area.

It was on the 14 February 1895 that the then Chairman of the Laurencekirk School Board spoke of ‘the great importance of the steps being taken’. He was referring to the occasion whereby Laurencekirk Public School first gained the entitlement to deliver secondary education. A large crowd at the ceremony confirmed the importance of that occasion.

Of course it was not the first occasion any school had opened in the Mearns. Records indicate that schools have existed in Laurencekirk since as far back as 1670 and by 1849 there were at least eight schools in the area. Most were private and fee-paying but by 1895, Laurencekirk Public School had become a centre for free, compulsory education for all local 5-13 year olds. The new secondary pupils did however pay fees until the 1918 Education Act made their education free also.

Since the start of secondary education in Laurencekirk in 1895 there have been various organisational and name changes:

1895 – Laurencekirk Public School established

1939 – School renamed Laurencekirk Junior Secondary School. (Pupils passing a qualifying exam at age 12 would usually go to a Senior Secondary School).

1972 – Comprehensive education system introduced

1974 – School granted Senior Secondary status

1977 – School renamed as Mearns Academy

Along with this of course the actual number of pupils attending has also changed and indeed is expected to grow further in the near future. In 1895 there were 112 pupils in the Primary Department and 25 in the secondary – total 137.

By 1933 275 primary / infant pupils made up most of an overall total of 356. By 1953 the overall total reached 502 and by 1995 (at the time of the school centenary) there were 230 pupils in the primary school and 409 pupils at the academy.

Now in the academy alone there are 643 pupils and future projections indicate that this number may grow to nearly 800 in the next decade.

The number of teachers has also increased. In 1936 there was a total of 16 teachers including Mr Gordon the head teacher. By 1954 including the then head teacher Mr Stewart, there were 18 members of staff*.  Today at Mearns Academy alone there are over 70 teachers (the equivalent of 51 full time teachers).

Over the last 119 years there have been 8 head teachers, or as historically known, rectors. They are:

Mr W Lang October 1880 to November 1918
Mr W J Gordon March 1919 to January 1948
Mr D L Stewart Feb 1948 to Feb 1968
Mr I M Frain Feb 1968 to Dec 1988
Mr B J Wood Jan 1989 to October 1993
Mr J S Fraser Jan 1994 to
Mr G Miller to Sept 2007
Mr I Parkin Sept 2007 to present

Over that time many aspects of the school curriculum have also changed. Today’s Curriculum for Excellence programme is certainly a long way from the days when drill, navigation and Latin were taught.

Equally, for much of last century the curriculum delivered to boys was very different to that for
girls. Domestic subjects were for a long time only delivered to girls (this included baking, cleaning and cooking). Indeed one third year girl in the 1953 school magazine pleaded for more:

“As we girls will soon be leaving school don’t you thing it would be very useful if we could have at least two periods in the week doing laundry”

No equal opportunities then! Additionally, for much of the school’s history, streaming led to pupils of different abilities following completely different programmes of study. Of course one other change is the emergence of IT as a basis for learning. The first computers delivered to the school in 1983 (see photo) caused great excitement – now use of IT in learning is of course at the heart of all pupil’s curriculum.

Technology of course now assists other aspects of school organisation including timetabling. The timetable production is greatly accelerated through use of software – not so historically however. In the past there was one hand written version of this crucial document. Sadly on one occasion in the 1930’s this document accidentally blew into a river when the Depute Rector was at a school football match. History records that both teams suspended play to search for this vital paper – but rumour has it that some pupils did not actually search too hard!

Thankfully, whatever changes have occurred, learners at the school continue to do well. From the 1945 Scottish Education Department report which said:

“The general direction of this school is in the most competent and kindly hands   ……  children work diligently and have made creditable progress”, to the most recent Her Majesty’s Inspectors report in 2011, the young people of the Mearns have achieved strongly.



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