Recent figures released by Liberton High School show that the number of pupils staying on after standard grade level has risen from 66% yo 79% and that the proportion of those who progress from fifth to sixth year has more than doubled.
Half the number of fifth years now aim for further higher-level qualifications before entering the world of work or further education. This compares favourably to the school's ability to retain just 19% of pupils between fifth and sixth year a year ago.
In addition, there are also instances of pupils returning for a seventh year of studies as well as former pupils returning to add more depth to their CV after a year at work.
Jan Ingram, depute head teacher at Liberton, says the change among young people is down to a number of factors. She highlights the raising of expectations and the school's hugely improved ethos in the last few years as key in encouraging pupils to stay on at school.
"Over the last couple of years, the school has improved in many ways," she says. "It is seen in the community in a different way - as a much more positive influence. Pupils who have been here for a number of years think the change is incredible and say that it is a completely different school.
"School dress code is strictly enforced and good behaviour is now the norm following the introduction of a programme that highlights and rewards good behaviour."
Among those who have found the lure of the classroom too hard to resist was Tricia Dixon. The seventeen-year-old left Liberton after fourth year but, after a largely frustrating year in hairdressing, is now back to augment her list of qualifications.
“I wanted to stay on at school after fourth year and eventually become a primary school teacher,” she says. “I got good standard grade results too. But, I woke up one morning and decided I wasn’t going to go back to school. I came in and spoke to my guidance teacher, who tried to convince me to stay.
“But I saw hairdressing as a way to make money. Eight months into my job at a hairdresser in Morningside, I decided to come back to school for good. I used to come in regularly anyway, even after I’d left, to see my English teacher Mr Major – I really like doing essays, so I came in and asked him for some to do.
“I still don’t really know what I want to do – some days I think I would like to be a primary school teacher – but I’ve applied for college and I know what I need to get there.”
Aside from the positive ethos that is given as the reason for these impressive figures, pupils are returning for more practical reasons, such as the clubs and facilities available only in a secondary school environment.
David Fulton, 18, has just begun his seventh year of study at Liberton. “I was going to study at Stevenson College,” says David, “but it would be stuff that I’d already done at school. The college said that anything at a higher level wouldn’t be possible with the qualifications I had, so I came back to school to get more. You get all the benefits of sixth year, like the common room, and I get the chance to play the flute in a group.”
In the same vein, Mike Ainsley, 17, left school after sixth year, but on his first day at college his course was closed due to the number of initial participants who subsequently registered for a similar area of study at a higher level. “That was something I couldn’t do because of my qualifications,” says Mike, “so I came back to school. My friends think I’m crazy, but it’s given me time to realise I’d rather go to college and study music. School’s good for that, too – I’ve now got the opportunity of proper music lessons.”
Meanwhile, while increasing numbers of pupils are being retained by the school toward the latter years of study, the school role is steadily on the up after two years of decline. Two years ago, Liberton boasted 750 pupils on its register and after the summer of 2008, just 700 reported for the first day back. However, in the past few months, the Gilmerton Road campus has accepted applications from a further 33 students, many from outwith its immediate catchment area.
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