AS another school term ends, parents, teachers and pupils have been reflecting on a successful year of learning across Helensburgh and Lomond.

Argyll and Bute councillors received a glowing education report at the recent Helensburgh and Lomond area committee meeting, with members commending the staff involved in the positive work in primary schools over the last 12 months.

And it’s not just in the classroom where results are being seen.

The Advertiser went along to Hermitage Primary just before the end of the summer term to catch up with head teacher Elspeth Davis, who has just completed her inaugural year at the school after spending more than a decade at Cardross.

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On a busy open day where parents and visitors were invited to see for themselves the progress made by their children, the impact on the wider Helensburgh community of an engaging form of teaching and learning was abundantly clear.

“The recipe to success, in this school, is engaging everybody in the community,” Elspeth said. “The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” is true, it can’t be one person, it can’t just be one member of staff, it has to be in partnership with parents and the community as well.

“It’s been my privilege to come into a school where I’ve been welcomed and supported as much as I have. It’s not just about me doing it, it’s about working with everybody to create the success we’ve got.”

Success has been a key theme of the past year at Hermitage Primary, with notable sporting, educational attainment and environmental highlights, and Elspeth is adamant that the benefits of a flexible approach to the curriculum are endless.

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She said: “The children are used to high expectations being set, but what also defines here, is that not only do the children meet the high expectations, they often exceed them.

“Some of the examples we’ve seen at the open day, these are children who have been given quite an open brief and have amazed their teachers and their parents in where they’ve come with it.

“The open brief would be challenge-based and would have specific criteria around that, but it wasn’t about making something particular, it was about ‘what can you come up with?’ So, when you’re given free reign and we actually take the glass ceiling off, that’s when children surprise us.

“What we’re doing at Hermitage and will continue to do even more so is to offer creativity where we can within learning to allow children to take the lead.

"Children can and they should be allowed to do that. It’s more than developing curricular skills, it’s about meta skills, it’s about innovation, it’s about self-management, and all those skills, we now know, are just as important as the three r’s (reading, writing and arithmetic).

“What you’ll see here over my leadership is a further development of that because we recognise how critical that is for a child in learning.”

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One area of focus which is increasing in prominence in all Helensburgh and Lomond schools is outdoor learning.

Hermitage Primary currently has four Eco Schools Green Flags, reflecting the school’s commitment to sustainability, while Arrochar and Cardross Primary each have three, Colgrain has been awarded five and Rhu recently earned its sixth.

Protecting the environment has also been high on the agenda in Kilcreggan and Rosneath, with the former building a community garden and winning recognition from Keep Scotland Beautiful for a documentary on plastic pollution, while the latter took part in a Big Walk 2 School to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution and improve road safety.

Elspeth added: “Outdoors is a big focus. We’re really fortunate to have Hermitage Park next door which is being redeveloped, so we have been exploring ways we can use the park further.

"Going into next year, we’ll have two staff members who are trained in forest schools, so that allows us then to do far more detailed work and rather than just taking learning outdoors, we can actually learn about the outdoors as well and put those skills into practice.

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“Quite often schools have taken learning outdoors, for example doing your times table on a big square in the playground, which is taking something that could happen in the classroom outside, but there’s something quite different about learning how to work together to create a shelter for example, or learning how to work together to sustain yourself outdoors, create a fire etc.

“We might not need survival skills here in Scotland, although the weather is bad, so you never know, but it’s about those meta skills, it’s about taking learning beyond what is just paper-based learning that perhaps most people would be used to and problem solving.”

This hands-on approach to teaching and learning has developed considerably in recent years and its impact is evident.

Whereas 10 years ago, core subjects such as maths and English may have been preferred over arts and science, young people’s creative talents are now being embraced and encouraged throughout Helensburgh and Lomond.

READ MORE: Kilcreggan 'green' pupils win Young Reporters Scotland prize

Garelochhead Primary’s curriculum development event in October, where pupils invited local businesses and representatives to work alongside them on key learning topics, was reflective of the vital relationship between classroom and community.

Creating new opportunities for children has also been at the heart of Colgrain Primary’s new nurture room as well as the specially designed sensory room at Parklands.

“When you give children that chance and involve parents in it as well, they are getting the very best support they can to become lifelong learners,” Elspeth added. “The sort of skills we are talking about here are skills that we are hoping will continue in the future for children to go and become successful.

“We’re seeing spin-offs to that already, in terms of confidence, motivation, resilience, which are almost like side products, if you like, of all this type of engagement and learning.

“It allows children to succeed in different ways. Quite often a curriculum is narrow and only certain children could succeed within it, whereas the approach now to learning allows every child to succeed. That ties in with the motto that we’re almost adopting which is “be the best you can be because of your own skills and abilities”.

“Moving forward, the aims are to continue to develop a creative, challenge-based curriculum for children and to get as much from that richness of learning as they can.”