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Location of this close-knit, middle-sized school couldn’t be more apt in Glasgow’s West End, with its vibrant mix of students, hipsters and professionals. KA’s laidback, modern approach and ‘supportive atmosphere’ is appealing to parents who wouldn’t normally consider independent schooling. While watching handball at 2012 Olympics, pupils were inspired to set up a handball club; now one-third of the Scottish and GB junior handball teams are made up of Kelvinside pupils...

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All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

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Since 2016, Ian Munro (30s), born in Aberdeen, partly state school educated at Hazelhead. In S3 moved to George Heriot’s School, ‘which was quite hard at first’ but changed his school life for the better. BSc zoology, followed by a PGCE biology, both from Edinburgh University. Never resting on his laurels and with a passion for learning, gained a masters from Cambridge with distinction in educational leadership and school improvement, and recently completed leadership course with Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

Formerly teacher (biology) and head of year at Heriot’s and deputy head at Shiplake College. Most inspired, however, by his time at Gordonstoun (head of biology), with its much more holistic approach and where pupils don’t feel pressured to achieve five As.

Flood of media attention when first appointed about being the youngest head teacher in the independent sector – he looked most embarrassed about this. Incredibly likeable, efficient (he responded to every email from this editor quickly and personally), down to earth and bubbling over with new ideas. Very much at ease with pupils; one parent claimed: ‘He gets the kids! Respect is clearly evident going both ways, between him and his pupils.’

‘Innovative’ is a word we often hear heads use, but in this case it’s an understatement. In his short tenure, he's overseen a new outdoors activity centre in the Cairngorms as well as an innovative American technology and design summer school. Despite this, he was modest and had the ‘enthusiastic and engaging’ deputy rector, Dan Wyatt, in on our meeting for back up.

Lives in Glasgow’s West End with wife, history teacher at independent school. No children but two dogs, one a cocker spaniel named Charles Darwin. Loves the outdoors, sailing, walking, climbing, canoeing. Anything sporty. He and deputy head both sing in the school choir.

Also executive head of the new (2018) Glasgow Schools Trust, with Craigholme School.

Head of junior school: Since August 2018, Linda MacBeath previously acting head of Colgrain Primary School in Helensburgh. Born and raised in Dumbarton, and completed her PGCE at Southampton University. She then began her teaching career in Manchester before moving back to Scotland to teach at Lomond School in Helensburgh, progressing to senior leadership posts at Cardross Primary School and Colgrain Primary School. A recognised advocate of digital technology and of the importance of outdoor education. She is also head of junior school at Craigholme School

Academic matters

Rector himself says ‘if expectation is for all kids to get five As at Higher then it might not be the school for you’. There are other independent schools in Glasgow with that focus (one nearby with significantly higher percentage of As at Higher and Advanced Higher), but too-cool-for school KA has a much more nurturing approach, reflected in the change of the motto from ‘ever the best’ to ‘be the best you can be’. One parent enthused: ‘It’s not necessarily about being the best and all the pressures, unsportsmanly behaviours and self-esteem issues that can bring, it’s about working hard at being the very best you can be and celebrating that success, both as individuals and teams.’

Academic results are not to be scoffed at nonetheless; in 2018, 61 per cent A-Bs, with 34 per cent As for Higher, and 62 per cent A-Bs, with 36 per cent As for Advanced Higher. Pupils sit eight National Fives, and everyone takes one language to National 5; 32 per cent take French or Spanish to Higher.

In his own words, the rector is intent on ‘disrupting education in Scotland’, which he says has ‘fallen in standards over the years’ (perhaps a dig at Curriculum for Excellence). Rather than just studying for exams, he wants to offer the best possible opportunities to KA students, teaming up with American innovation school NuVu, a ‘micro school’ with no exams, focusing on entrepreneurialism. In summer of 2017, 24 fortunate KA students were taught by academics and designers from Harvard and MIT on two week courses on Swarm Robotics and Biofashion. There is a price tag, of course, but no more expensive than a music summer course at the Royal Conservatoire, for example. Senior pupils now do a two-week interdisciplinary design project with complex challenges to solve collaborately.

Support for learning is based around the individual and what they need at KA. Large number of long-serving staff, some of 30 years, reaching retirement. Small management team, two out of seven female; both senior teachers in the junior school female.

Dedicated teacher for EAL as plenty of interest from overseas and international flavour in the school. One international parent said: ‘KA provided very good English support to the children … both have been completely integrated during this year with a local boy or girl at the same level.’ The Homestay programme allows international students (aged 16–18) to board with school families while studying at KA for one or two years.

Hands-on in the local community. Recently, S6s in the Kelvinside Academy Refugee Organisation (KARO) taught English, off timetable, to the Syrian refugee population in Maryhill, Glasgow. The pupils asked to sit TEFL qualifications and are now TEFL qualified teachers.

Work experience from S4, jobs generally found through family and former pupils network. Not always the case, however: one pupil secured a week film-making with the BBC and another, much further afield, with a gold-mining company in Nicaragua. A school rugby player broke his foot so was working in the library; he noticed a link between two architectural motifs in its design and now works with Scottish Historical Society.

Career education given throughout school life; former pupils still come back for careers advice. Works with company Inspiring Futures, which gives advice until 2023. S6 programme of speakers from different walks of life, as well as business breakfasts (networking for parents and senior pupils) to give exposure to real business people. JP Morgan had stand at parents' evening offering modern apprenticeships (not just for those of a vocational bent), an opportunity to earn a good salary, with day release to achieve a degree.

Games, options, the arts

Rugby and hockey usual favourites, but unusually handball is incredibly popular at KA. While watching handball at 2012 Olympics, pupils were inspired to set up a handball club; now one-third of the Scottish and GB junior handball teams are made up of Kelvinside pupils. Success recently also in rowing, rugby, hockey, windsurfing, judo and shooting.

Outdoor education a priority, starting from nursery through to junior and senior school. Rector says: ‘I want to embed outdoor education [similar to Gordonstoun] in the curriculum so that all pupils can be challenged and rejuvenated by nature.’ Pupils spend at least a week a year at the new Highland Wilderness Campus in the Cairngorms, climbing, gorge walking, hiking, mountain biking and more. It's also used for weekend courses and D of E, plus maths, science and other mainstream lessons. There's sailing training in z yacht donated to the school; biology teacher is a yachtmaster. Loads of ‘first-come-first-served’ extracurricular activities on-site from dance to the lunch-time Minecraft club, as well as a shooting range on the roof.

Minibus (which this editor enjoyed a jaunt in) takes younger pupils to the school pavilion and sports grounds at Balgray Campus (for tennis, rugby, hockey, cricket, athletics) – just a short drive away – as well as to local swimming baths and climbing centre, and for mountain biking and canoeing.

Specialist music tuition from junior school. Full-time piano teacher. Variety of music clubs, choirs and orchestras with concerts throughout the year (Christmas and spring concerts, carol singing, open-mic nights, musical theatre nights). KA was highest ranked choir recently at the Glasgow Music Festival, winning the Herald Challenge Trophy.

Drama a popular subject with two sets at S3/S4; available to Advanced Higher. S6 pupil secured a place at the American Acting Academy on a full scholarship. We didn’t get to see theatre (as exams were on) but recently staged The Great Gatsby (music by school band), which ran for a week and sold out. J6 show, Robin Hood and the Sherwood Hoodies, was reviewed on BBC Radio Scotland.

Pupils' artworks on display around the school, including sculptures called ‘eco farm’, representing illegal organ farming. Photography available as a Higher alongside art. Annual art exhibition and cartoon and photography competitions.

High uptake of Duke of Edinburgh (64 per cent bronze, 40 per cent silver, 32 per cent gold) and all S3 pupils must join the CCF, many staying on voluntarily in later years.  

Exchange trips to Lancaster Country Day School in Pennsylvania for pupils and teachers, as well as Italy (skiing), Madrid (hockey), Toulouse (rugby), Stirling Castle (junior school) and Malawi to work on irrigation project.

Background and atmosphere

Founded in 1879, the grade A listed building was designed by the renowned Scottish architect James Sellars. Renamed the Kelvinside Academy War Memorial Trust after the First World War; war memorials line the main school stairs. Co-ed since 1998 and includes a nursery and junior school. Impressive nursery, with over 50 children, is based at Balgray playing fields and has iPads in all areas, expressive areas and a ‘risky play’ area, where children can use real tools (supervised). The forest kindergarten is a 10–15 minute walk away. On our tour we met Fluffy, the bearded dragon, whom the rector was brave enough to hold. Outdoor play area features climbing wall, wooden toys, mud kitchen and eco garden.

Extensively upgraded and modernised for 21st-century learning, the main school building retains its sense of tradition, combined with new additions of modernity, notably the new contemporary, white-washed library in the senior school (with more computers than books) and the Think Tank, inspired by Google, where pupils and teachers can express their thoughts on whiteboard walls. A roof garden, intended as a place for pupils and teachers to reflect, opened in 2017.

Separate sixth year house, in beautiful Victorian building, has two meeting rooms, complete with smartboard – though we waere told, sixth years being sixth years, that ‘sometimes it was used to play YouTube videos’. Upstairs is typical student common room, a guidance base for help with UCAS applications and a kitchen. One pupil said: ‘We are given a lot of trust, but can lose the house for a week if too noisy.’

Location of this close-knit, middle-sized school couldn’t be more apt in Glasgow’s West End, with its vibrant mix of students, hipsters and professionals. KA’s laidback, modern approach and ‘supportive atmosphere’ is appealing to parents who wouldn’t normally consider independent schooling. One such parent who worried about their kids ‘being educated in a privileged bubble’ was ‘exceptionally happy to have been proven wrong.’  The rector concurs, saying KA is ‘the antithesis of elitism’ (well, as much as it can be for an independent school). ‘A lovely relaxed feel at the school’, said another parent, where pupils aren’t bogged down by horrible amounts of homework. ‘Our children have definitely benefitted from the smaller class sizes. They get so much individual attention and that allows us to spend time as a family in the evenings instead of many onerous hours doing homework!’ This editor is just a little bit envious.

Local state primaries use facilities. Oodles of charity work including senior pupils working in soup kitchens and tutoring in primary schools in challenging areas; foodbank and guide dog initiatives in the junior school.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Deputy rector in charge of pastoral care and head of year works with form tutors who are the first point of contact for pupils and parents in senior school; class teacher first point of call in junior school. Also fully qualified school counsellor for pupils and staff. Four traditional houses (Buchanan, Colquhoun, MacGregor, Stewart) participate in house competition events and charity initiatives. Smart blue uniform with woollen blazer, tartan skirts for senior girls and pinafores for juniors. Catering offers a set menu each week, which is ‘healthy and good value’. Though we did see a kiosk selling fizzy drinks and sweet treats. One parent commented: ‘I do struggle with the idea that sweets, chocolates etc are on sale in the school when we are asked to adhere to the school's healthy eating policy.’

Considerable investment made in IT. Only school in Scotland to hold the Scottish Government’s digital schools award. Pupils have access to a 3D printer and laser cutter, and all pupils taught to code. A parent said: ‘The school has embraced electronic learning and has a clear policy of using technology (in the form of electronic devices) as an effective medium for learning.’ Dedicated member of teaching staff for e-learning.

Positive approach to discipline – rector says, ‘"please don’t do that" is generally enough’. Takes considered approach, and contacts parents if needed. A couple of pupils who ‘have not been the right fit’ have moved to pastures new. No exclusions during Mr M’s time as rector.

Pupils and parents

Diverse range of pupils, including some from America, Australia, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia. Parents generally middle-class professionals who are looking for a holistic approach for their child’s education and want to ‘nurture child’s mind, body and spirit’. Probably not best suited to competitive parents. ‘KA is working hand-in-hand with all the parents of the school to jointly raise polite, considerate and confident (without being cocky) individuals.’ One parent’s impression is: ‘The school seems to attract less girls, especially in some years …’ The rector, however, assures that there is a 50:50 split boys to girls.

Each year group has two parents’ evening per academic year, a written report, and also ‘profiles’ (interim reports based on effort and attainment grades). Pupils who require extra support are identified and supported. Parents can get in touch at any time through the year.

Parents have access to the VLE system, where homework and key info (calendar, school reports, profiles) is uploaded. New website with interactive school and sports calendar, which parents can download direct to their phone.
Subsidised school buses run from the north, west and south of Glasgow. All collect in the morning and drop off in the evening.

Notable former pupils: Sir Thomas Risk (lawyer and governor of the Bank of Scotland), Alan Ferguson Rodger, Baron Rodger of Earlsferry (lawyer and Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom), Richie Gray (Scottish international rugby union player), Gary Smith (news journalist), Brigadier Alastair Stevenson Pearson (one of the most highly regarded soldiers of the Parachute Regiment and the British Army who served in World War 2).


Selective school, though not all about academics. Rector told an anecdote about one pupil who said he had weak English but could play the piano. Turned out he was talented pianist and was given a place. Assessments for senior school are given in literacy and numeracy; spend a day at the school taking part in team-building activities and sports assessment. Skype interview and school reports are requested, for those further afield.

Assessment and taster day for junior school. Still selective but automatic progression to senior.

Nursery makes use of partnership funding from government, so some don’t go on (for financial reasons) to the junior school.

Waiting list for some year groups in the senior school. S2/S3 and S5 popular years to join, with parents holding off until the exam years.


No pushing out of weaker links; this school is not all about academics. Rectors says, ‘data tracking intervention strategies put in place’ and more study sessions or after-school sessions will be organised for those that need support. Majority go on to ancient Scottish universities, with one-third of pupils doing STEM courses. Increasing trend in American universities.

Money matters

Rector knows ‘it is expensive and sector needs to think long and hard about affordability’. However, he says at KA ‘what you pay is what you get’. Inclusive fees, books all included and doesn’t include a development levy. Means-tested bursaries available (around 10 per cent receive them), with a few on full bursaries.

Our view

Selective, co-ed independent school in grade A listed building in Glasgow’s prosperous West End. Provides a holistic approach to education and making innovative strides with its technology and design summer school and outdoor activities centre in the Cairngorms to promote well-being and challenge.

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