They are just 10 minutes’ drive apart – but there’s a world of difference in the academic success of Perth High School and Perth Grammar School.
Children who go to the High are far more likely to walk out the door with five or more Higher qualifications than their peers at the Grammar.
In The Courier League – compiled in April using last year’s exam results – Perth High School was in our top 10, coming in 8th overall among Tayside and Fife secondaries.
Of its 2021 leavers, 48% gained five or more Highers, compared with 22% at Perth Grammar School, which ranked 38th out of 43.
Why such different outcomes?
The difference is clear but the reasons for it are complex.
The quality of a school’s provision – teaching, nurturing and ensuring the wellbeing of its young people – will influence how well its pupils perform.
But the demographic of its catchment area is also a big factor outwith its control, with children from poorer backgrounds less likely to excel academically.
Of last year’s Grammar leavers, 43% were from more impoverished areas – communities designated in quintiles 1 and 2 of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation.
This is in contrast to 15% from the High, where 41% of leavers were from the most affluent areas – quintile 5.
And 97% of the High’s leavers went onto to university, college, work or another positive destination, compared to 92% of the Grammar’s.
Quality of education
Shortly before the pandemic, both schools were assessed by HM Inspectors of Education for Education Scotland.
The Grammar’s performance in raising attainment and achievement was deemed weak in 2020.
A year earlier, the High had been given a satisfactory rating for the same area.
Both schools were regarded as satisfactory for learning, teaching and assessment.
Having told the Grammar to raise attainment and achievement for all young people, inspectors returned last year and found that significant progress had been made in a range of attainment measures.
What of the school buildings themselves?
While Perth Grammar is in satisfactory condition, Perth High School’s building is in poor condition.
The Grammar occupies the former home of the High in Gowans Terrace, and a phased programme of £7 million of improvement works is due for completion by 2025.
But the High has a £58.5m new building to look forward to.
It will move into its new home in its existing grounds in Oakbank Road in August 2024.
Sometimes parents eager to get their children into one school or another will choose to live in their favoured school’s catchment area.
According to local estate agent Alison Miller, preference for a particular secondary school doesn’t generally influence Perth house-hunters.
However, three out of five popular primary schools she highlighted are feeder schools for the High.
The managing director of Simple Approach Estate Agents told us: “People are more interested in the primary schools and people will move house or stay in the area they are in to be in the catchment area for a particular primary school.
“People will upsize when their kids are small and the secondary is a follow-through from the primary school, so they will maybe already be considering what the secondary school is.”
She highlighted Viewlands, Oaklands, Luncarty, Dunbarney (Bridge of Earn) and Abernethy as primary schools which buyers will often seek out.
Perth Grammar School is in the city centre ward of Liberal Democrat councillor Peter Barrett – and he’s keen to see greater investment to raise attainment of the least well-off.
He said: “For too long the poorest children in our schools have been half as likely to leave school with the same qualifications as their better-off colleagues.”
His party, Mr Barrett says, has long been clear that more resources are needed to reduce the poverty-related attainment gap and is championing introduction of pupil premium funding like England has to raise attainment for disadvantaged pupils.
He added: “What the latest figures show is that resource is more necessary now than it ever was.”
What is Perth and Kinross Council doing?
Giving every child the best start in life and providing the best possible education at every school is something Perth and Kinross Council says it is committed to.
A spokesperson said: “While we have seen outcomes improve across Perth and Kinross in recent years, we know there is always more that can be done and that many factors, including poverty, can influence the outcomes of schools.
“Our raising attainment strategy focuses on improving writing and numeracy, raising attainment among looked after children and young people and reducing the gender gap on developmental milestones between boys and girls, improving attendance and providing additional support for wellbeing and mental health.
“Our most recent annual report shows the proportion of school-leavers attaining both literacy and numeracy at SCQF level 4 [National 4] rose from 79% in 2014 to 89% in 2019.
“In 2019, 97% of school leavers were in positive destinations, one of the highest rates in the country.”