Mearns Academy – Moving On, part 4

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Spare the rod and spoil the child, or not? How has learning and teaching changed since 1895?

Learning and Teaching


The emerging new campus will give pupils a stimulating and modern environment in which to learn. It will be a very different place to the school in 1895. In line with this, the curriculum today is a very different one compared to the study programme offered to learners at the beginning of the 20th Century.

However, some old favourite studies, Mathematics and English remain and even in the new building, despite additions such as interactive whiteboards, most rooms will still be identifiable as classrooms.

But change has been significant. Drill, Navigation and Latin all featured prominently in the past – but no longer. Moreover the curriculum today is designed to give all pupils (male and female) a full choice of experience to meet their needs. For much of the school’s history the curriculum provided for girls was very different from that designed for boys. Domestic subjects were for a long time delivered exclusively to girls – they included cooking, cleaning, baking, laundry and budgeting. A letter to the editor of the 1953 school magazine confirms that many girls were happy with this:

‘As we girls will soon be leaving school, don’t you think it would be very useful if we could at least have two periods in the week of laundry work?’ Anna Davidson 2B

Similarly, three years later another girl in 2A bemoaned the fact that academic girls did not get the chance to pursue domestic subjects:

‘Why don’t the A class get cookery? After all, every girl needs this training’.

Indeed as indicated above, one other discriminating factor deciding what curriculum you would study was ability level. This was assessed and classes then streamed with those as above in A classes following very different subjects than the practical focus pursued by others.

In terms of pupils’ experiences in lessons, most former members of the school, both staff and learners, reflect very positively on their time at the school. Relationships between pupils and teachers seem to have been very good for the most part. Perhaps in the past good conduct was partly due to the threat of the belt! Two errors in spelling meant a strapping for instance. However even after the use of the belt was banned in 1985 relationships in classes appear to have remained positive. Such an atmosphere of cooperation was undoubtedly assisted by the creation of new posts (Guidance Teachers) in 1972.

Teenagers of course will always be teenagers and it would be naïve to suggest that at all times all pupils were focussed on their work and well-behaved. The various school log books make references to occasional serious matters and suspensions, but also concerns over the seemingly endless pranks pupils got up to in the past. Boys in the 1930’s for instance seemed to specialise in blowing into the science Bunsen burners to blow out the gas in the cookers in home economics.

Through the decades the school received reports (initially on an annual basis) for Her Majesty’s Inspectors. Many of those are very complimentary with regard to the high quality of education delivered.

For example the 1930 report commented how:

‘Pupils are taught with marked vigour and intelligence; results of high quality in all branches are achieved’.

Similarly the 1945 report reflected on how the duration of the school was in ‘most competent and kindly hands’.

Not everything however went as successfully. Only two years after being granted secondary status in 1895 the school log book reflects on the annual report that commented on ‘little work carried out in the school was sufficiently advanced’. This concern deepened in 1899 when inspectors reported grimly that:

‘I am to state that my Lords are unable to recognise the higher classes of this school as a secondary department. The work professed is so elementary as to make it difficult to describe as secondary. The number if secondary pupils is now only eight’.

Thankfully both the number of secondary pupils and the quality of education provided for them increased over the following years. This was sometimes challenged by the lack of availability of suitably qualified specialist teachers (some staff taught several subjects).

The inspection report of 1948 reflected the concern:

‘Instruction in several subjects has had to be undertaken by anyone available ….. there are questions about how many courses this school can successfully provide’.

Step by step this situation was overcome and the granting of Senior Secondary status in 1974 helped local parents have confidence in the provision provided.

Today we see further change being implemented in teaching and learning with the introduction of the national programme that is Curriculum for Excellence. It builds on much of the good practice developed over recent years and as was the case historically – prepares young people for their lives after they leave the academy. Indeed, alongside courses routed in the 21st Century (e.g. Computing Science, Design etc.) it is reassuring to see the traditions of the Mearns reflected in opportunities for study in Land Based Skills. No doubt as the school prepares for one change though, others will follow!

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