As Levenmouth Academy closed its doors on Thursday, marking the end of its first year, staff, parents and pupils will have reflected on what has been a mixed 10 months.
There was a mixture of scepticism and optimism when the school, combining Buckhaven and Kirkland high schools, opened in August 2016.
How would they combine? Would the 1646 pupils get on?
Ronnie Ross, the former Kirkland rector who took on the same role at the ‘super-school’, admits that it has been harder than he expected.
“I don’t think any of us envisaged it would be as difficult as the amount of hours we’ve put in,” Ronnie said. “The hours the staff have put in – I can’t commend them enough. It’s been a huge job.
“There are some things you predicted might be an issue, which tended not to be, while things you didn’t expect to be issues, were.
“For example, there was a lot of worry in the community about the two groups of children not getting on. That’s not been the case. In the run up to the opening of the new school, I went to Buckhaven and spoke to the young people. I found a lot of them were friends with the youngsters from Kirkland, knew each other through social media, played in the same teams.
“My concern was about bringing two teams together to make a new one, and we’re still in that process.”
While the children from the two schools might have mixed better than expected, that does not mean the school year passed without incident.
Behavioural problems reached a crescendo in October, when a 10-second video of a male pupil commiting a violent act against a female learner went viral on social media. Ronnie admitted that there had been more behavioural incidents than had been expected but puts this down to building new relationships.
“What takes time is to build these relationships,” he said. “People don’t know their teachers, and teachers don’t know the young people.
“Some might call it a lack of respect, but I would say we are working hard with the respect agenda, and that’s based around the fact people didn’t know each other.
“What we want to do is make sure young people are aware of our expectations. Incidents have reduced over the last three months. There’s not the frequency there was at the beginning.”
With difficulties surrounding the school, numerous rumours sprang up.
One was that a lot of staff – more than usual – were taking time off because of stress-related issues.
Ronnie said: “I heard the rumour. I asked Fife Council about our absence rate and the data is in line with other secondaries in Fife.”
The second rumour was that he did not have the support of his senior staff – a claim he strongly denies.
“The senior leadership is really supportive,” he said. “We’re not all like-minded but I wouldn’t want a team of Ronnie Ross’s. I feel I get as much support here as I did at Kirkland.”
In a bid to tackle the problems and ease the burden on teachers, the school created an action plan in February.
Ronnie says it has had an impact on the school, putting it in a more positive place.
He said: “We’ve added staff to other areas of the school, had staff training, worked with young people.
“There are still some things to embed but it has made a difference. The most important thing for us is getting the very best educational experience for our young people as possible.”
Although Ronnie admits there are numerous things, with hindsight, he would have done differently, he feels in a positive place going into the next year.
“You invest so much time in these young people,” he says. “You want the best for them. You don’t always get it right, but by working together we will. I’m really looking forward to next year.”