FOR years, it was the school where it seemed acceptable for pupils to leave with no academic qualifications.

Drumchapel High, like other secondaries in some of Glasgow’s poorest estates, was seen as a lost cause, with the blight of poverty a ready excuse for some of the lowest exam results in the UK.

All that has changed. In the past decade attainment at schools like Drumchapel, in the north west of the city, has been transformed.

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In 2008, just 15 per cent of pupils at Drumchapel achieved at least one Higher, compared to nearly 60 per cent last year.

In terms of pupils securing the five Highers required for university the figure has risen from just one per cent in 2008 to nearly 15 per cent.

As a result, the opportunities for children growing up in Drumchapel and other poor areas of the city have blossomed, with nearly a quarter now going on to higher education at university or college.

Now the work of schools across Glasgow to close the poverty-related attainment gap has been praised in a new report by the national school inspectorate.

Education Scotland found key strengths included a “very strong” council-wide vision to tackle poverty.

The report found the council had made “exceptional progress” in reducing the impact of poverty on the “educational attainment and achievement” of pupils.

It also praised the “relentless drive” of Maureen McKenna, the city’s director of education, as well as career-long professional training for teachers which had improved the skills of staff.

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The report concludes: “Education Scotland is confident Glasgow City Council is making excellent progress in improving learning, raising attainment and mitigating the impact of poverty on learners.

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“A powerful strategic imperative and very strong leadership within education services are helping to secure improved outcomes for children.”

Joanne Sturgeon, the headteacher at Drumchapel, said a number of factors had been crucial to the improvements, including a reduction in the proportion of pupils being excluded, increased staying on rates and better training for teachers throughout their careers.

She said: “It is very hard to understand a situation where it would be seen as acceptable for some young people to leave school without appropriate qualifications.

“Perhaps school beyond fourth year was seen traditionally as something for those who were most academic and there was more of an acceptance that people would leave and seek employment, both from schools and families.

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Glasgow Times:
Drumchapel High School headteacher Joanne Sturgeon with sixth year pupils. From left; Beckie Eccles (18), Ragda Althir (17) and Kieran Daly (17). Standing from left; Holly Hamill (17) and Simran Kaur (17)

“We now live in a society where employment is harder to come by and there is a higher demand for pupils to have college and university qualifications.

“In order to ensure pupils are equipped for that world it has become a much greater focus to support them for longer at school because we know the longer they stay the more successful they can be.”

Ms Sturgeon said some pupils at the school were coping with significant issues of poverty, with more than 90 per cent living in the poorest postcodes in Scotland.

That can mean pupils dealing with difficult family circumstances such as family drug or alcohol abuse, domestic violence or caring for a sibling in a one parent family.

She said: “We have invested a lot of time in training staff to recognise all aspects of children’s development, we have a breakfast club so pupils are fed in the morning and we have a quiet place where young people can go if they want to release energy.

“Overall we adopt the position that every young person should reach their potential and we support them in whatever way we can to make sure they succeed.”

Lynn McPhillips, headteacher of Castlemilk High, “Whatever support the pupils need we give it to them. We have a focus on making sure young people achieve their potential and the staff never give up on them. As the school motto says, we want nothing but the best for them.”

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Gayle Gorman, Scotland’s chief inspector of education, said the report was a tribute to teachers and support staff across the city for their "outstanding commitment" to reducing the impact of poverty.

She said: "I’m very pleased to see staff are well supported and challenged to own and deliver the aspirational goals they have created for all children. Outstanding approaches to career-long professional learning and leadership have further strengthened staff skills and knowledge.”

Chris Cunningham, education spokesman for the council, said improvements in schools over the past decade were “remarkable”.

He said: “Children are at the heart of everything we do and there is no such thing as poverty of aspirations in our schools anymore. This is despite the fact that almost half of our pupils live in the ten per cent most deprived areas in Scotland.

“No one in education uses this as an excuse. We tackle these challenges head on and, as highlighted in the inspection, our children are reaping the benefits.”

Susan Quinn, secretary of the Glasgow branch of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said staff continued to work extremely hard against a backdrop of austerity.

She said: "It is welcome that this is being recognised in this report and teachers and pupils alike should be proud of these accomplishments.”

Susan Aitken, the leader of Glasgow City Council, said improvements in schools helped wider efforts to regenerate the city.

She said: “This report shows a city growing its own highly-skilled workforce, capable of attracting new jobs and investment, but also a Glasgow where young people are being encouraged to achieve all they are capable of.

“The positive impact on their lives and those of their families will benefit every neighbourhood in the city for generations to come.”