Aged 33, Ross Stewart must be among the youngest, if not the youngest, secondary school head teacher in Scotland.
But he already has experience in helping lead a school in one of Glasgow’s most deprived housing estates to defy the odds.
And he brings that experience to Lochgelly High School – which also has high levels of deprivation – with the hope of boosting both attendance and attainment.
So who is Ross Stewart?
The former youth football coach for St Mirren and Partick Thistle is keeping pupils guessing on his team allegiance.
But he’s open about his passion for playing the drums.
Ross arrived at Lochgelly, in Fife, in September from Lochend Community High School, in Easterhouse. He was depute head teacher there, having started his career as a design and technology teacher at Dumbarton Academy in 2011.
His remit involved improving attainment and outcomes for young people and easing transitions from P7 to S1.
Despite over 90% of Lochend’s pupils being from areas with the highest levels of deprivation – known as SIMD 1 – in 2021 it became one of the few schools in Scotland with 100% of leavers going onto positive destinations (ie. work, training, university, college, etc.)
And he brings the lessons he learned there to Lochgelly.
Just under half of Lochgelly High School‘s pupils are from SIMD 1 areas, a significantly lower proportion than in Lochend but among the highest in Fife.
Ross said: “We [Lochend] had done a lot of work on improving our school attendance and I’m aware that attendance is something we want to work on here.
“We had done a huge amount on learning and teaching; what happens in the classroom.
“For three years in a row we [Lochend] had 100% of our young people, despite the deprivation, despite the poverty, going on to do something that was sustainably positive and we were really proud of that.
“Collectively, those experiences were something I thought I could bring here.
“When I couple that with my own passion for getting transitions right, there’s a real opportunity for us here.”
And key to ensuring Lochgelly High School pupils leave with the best chances they can, he said, is maximising their time in school.
Both rates of attendance and pupils staying on beyond S4 are lower in Lochgelly than the Fife average.
Ross wants to make the school a more appealing place to be.
And he wants every young person to look to S6, not just S4.
He said: “We know if young people stay with us to sixth year they will get more qualifications which opens up more doors beyond school.
“One of the key messages I would love to share is this is a six year secondary school journey.”
The young people are hugely authentic. They always tell you what they think so you know where you stand!”
Getting that message across starts in P7, he said, and he plans to work with local primary schools to improve the transition process.
He also wants to ensure Lochgelly offers the most diverse curriculum it can, and not just for those looking to gain National 5 and Higher qualifications.
Already it offers courses such as make-up skills and Career Ready mentoring, and Ross hopes to introduce more such programmes.
Collaboration with the school’s resident police officer, social worker and attendance officer and the third sector, he hopes, will improve attendance.
As will creating a more welcoming ethos.
“We need to make sure the experiences young people have in school make them feel valued. For example, we want every young person coming into school being referenced by name by a member of staff.”
Behaviour issues are on his radar, and he aims to reduce the number of exclusions and create a culture of mutual respect.
Lochgelly pupils ‘tell you what they think’
Enhanced opportunities for staff development, he hopes, will improve the quality of learning and teaching.
But he’s starting from a good position, he said, with a high quality staff team.
He said: “There’s a real commitment here to getting it right for the young people.
“The young people themselves are hugely authentic. They always tell you what they think so you know where you stand!
“That honesty makes it easier for us to put supports in place to get them to wherever they want to go.”
During his first few weeks, Ross has concentrated on getting to know Lochgelly’s staff, parents, the community and its pupils.
He said: “I’m trying to be a presence around the school, getting into classrooms and seeing what the experience is like.”
Football, drums and Munros
And as he does so, pupils have been trying to discover his football colours.
A ruptured Achilles tendon at the age of 16 restricting his own action on the pitch led Ross to become a UEFA-accredited youth academy coach, and he remains an ardent fan.
He said: “The kids are all asking what football team I support. That’s the big question and I refuse to be drawn on it! I do support one of the four Glasgow teams, which has confused a few of them because they forget about Partick Thistle and Queens Park.”
Between his career and being dad to two children aged five and three, Ross has little time to indulge his hobbies which also include music and Munro-bagging.
I want it to be that as soon as you walk through the door you know you are in a high-performing school.”
He was a snare drummer in a Boys’ Brigade pipe band and Milngavie Pipe Band and occasionally drums with a Glasgow ceilidh band.
For now, he lives in Glasgow with his wife, who works for the Scottish Ambulance Service, and his daily commute eases the work life / home life transition.
He said: “It’s time to reflect. It means when I cross the threshold I’m back into dad mode. I’ve left the worries, the pressure, the stresses or whatever of the day behind.”
And what occupies his mind are his ambitions for Lochgelly High School.
He said: “I do have high expectations for the school, for the young people and the staff.
“I want it to be that as soon as you walk through the door you know you are in a high-performing school where everyone knows their role, what is expected of them and that we have curriculum and learning experiences that are positive for all.”