‘Our school is safe’, says Academy head

Head teacher Ronnie Ross in the new Levenmouth Academy (picture by George McLuskie)
Head teacher Ronnie Ross in the new Levenmouth Academy (picture by George McLuskie)

The head of the new Levenmouth Academy has declared the school is safe and has a large commitment to wellbeing and good education.

The £44m school, spawned by the merger of Kirkland and Buckhaven Highs, has been rocked in the seven weeks since its opening by some violent incidents involving pupils and, predictably, a feverish reaction on social media.

Concern reached new heights last week with the online posting of a 10-second video – since removed – of a male pupil committing a violent act against a female learner.

However, boss Ronnie Ross has called for an end to “blame culture” which often coloured social media and expressed a wish for some users to be “more informed”, which would help them reach the right conclusions.

Mr Ross acknowledged there had been difficulties and said it was a community issue, not just a school issue.

The focus was on the school, because it was new and different.

But he stressed lots of very positive things were also happening at Levenmouth Academy and that time was needed for everyone – pupils and staff – to get accustomed to their new surroundings.

Mr Ross said he was not worried that the problems had become too big for the school to deal with, and that he thought Fife Council’s disciplinary procedure was adequate.

While he understood parents had concerns over the unpleasant incidents which had occurred, he stressed there was an “open-door policy” for discussion.

Mr Ross is due after the October holidays to meet representatives of a new Facebook group, started by parents, while a new Parent Council is to be formed, possibly with around 12-20 members.

It is also likely, however, that additional support staff may be brought in to help the work already being done at the school, as “a need had been identified”.

“The bottom line is the school is extremely safe,” insisted Mr Ross. “It has more staff and more CCTV cameras than any other in Scotland.

“It’s a big school to lead and manage. But, working in partnership with parents, pupils and learning development colleagues, we can make this an outstanding school.”

The youngsters – whom it was “a pleasure and a privilege to teach on a daily basis” – were at the heart of the community, he added, but it was no surprise there had been some problems along the way.

“It’s about young people learning respect and dignity,” he added. “At the beginning of a learning journey, some will make mistakes, and we are here to take corrective action.”

Despite it being the first merger of its kind in Fife for 30 years, and possibly the biggest merger to a single-site school in Scotland, former Kirkland and Buckhaven pupils were mixing well and the staff teams were uniting successfully too, said Mr Ross.

If parents had concerns, they could come in and be shown around the school – where they would see “1600 young people in classes, learning”. There were opportunities also to get in contact through the pupil support network.

Mr Ross said there had been a degree of apprehension among the young people about the new building.

“It’s a bigger environment and a new environment, and there will be a period of settling in. “As a team, we are determined to build strong working relationships that are helpful and meaningful among staff and pupils. That, I believe, is what makes an excellent school.”

One parent who contacted the Mail recently with claims their child had been assaulted – more than once – said the school was “a shambles” and there were not enough staff to deal with pupils, because nothing seemed to get done.

However, Mr Ross said cases of violence were handled “appropriately”. Two people fighting, for example, were dealt with “fairly and consistently” within the school’s and Fife Council’s policy, with parents and carers involved.

“If there is an assault – and there is a difference – pupils have felt the full weight of the discipline procedure which the school has at its disposal,” he added.

There would be a police report and charges, if necessary, and afterwards there was “positive counselling work”, by trained staff, who worked to help young people with conflict and resolution difficulties, and to ensure staff too got the right backing.

“I have no criticism of the discipline policy,” said Mr Ross. “It is fair, incisive and robust. I feel fully supported by the service, local councillors and parents.”

There are fights in every school in Scotland, said Mr Ross – but, at Levenmouth, they were dealt with.

Making young people in Fife safe was the number one priority and nowhere other than at Levenmouth Academy were staff more committed to care, welfare, health and wellbeing.

Mr Ross also called for an end to the culture of blame.

Some people might blame parents, the community, young people or the school, and others might jump on board, but he suggested: “Let’s all be part of the solution.”

He reiterated that anyone who wanted to come and see for themselves would be reassured Levenmouth Academy was a safe environment, where pupils were learning and staff were dedicated and doing a great job.

An administrator from Levenmouth Academy Support Group, which will be meeting Mr Ross, told the Mail it had created the Facebook group after seeing the video and hearing stories over recent weeks.

“I really felt something had to be done,” she added. “We just want to prevent this from happening any more.

“The group is aimed at solving the problems that have been going on recently.

“In no way shape or form are we against the school or Mr Ross. We want to work together as a community and make it better and safer for everyone.”

Parents had given lots of ideas and meetings were now in place, she added.

“This is the aim of the group. We, as parents, just want everyone safe.”

Levenmouth councillor Ally Hunter said he welcomed the concern shown by the formation of the group and from the wider community, and hoped everyone could work to make people’s experience at the school the best it could be.

“I think we have one of the best school buildings and one of the best leadership teams in the country – but what we need is the time for all of that to come together,” he added.

“In some cases, it’s about trying to change behaviour that has been ingrained for years and years. But we have to keep this in perspective.

“There are 1700 kids at that school trying their hardest and doing great things, and that should be talked about as much as the negative.”