How the race for excellence is won

Aberdeen’s Albyn School is constantly adapting to meet and exceed the educational needs of modern, cosmopolitan children in the north east

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Albyn School, in Aberdeen’s west end, is an independent co-educational day school for just over 680 pupils aged 5-18, with another 120 in its nurseries for children aged 2-4. Founded almost 150 years ago the school is an eclectic mix of the tradi­tional and the contemporary.

Albyn is constantly changing to enhance the educational needs of modern, cosmopolitan children. In the past decade, the school has become wholly coeducational. A new Toddler Nursery and a light, airy and colourful Lower School have been built as well as additional science laboratories and a senior school building to house the Mathematics and English Departments.

If ever the contemporary and the traditional juxtaposed themselves so clearly is the award-winning front entrance. In this contemporary glass structure, papers and artefacts dating back to the school’s origins in the nineteenth century are on permanent display.

Most recently, additional floors have been created to house a Senior Study Room, Lower School Library and the Wood Arts and Lecture Theatre and the Business Studies and Economics suite has also been newly refurbished. Next year, an Engineering Centre will be com­pleted for pupils with an interest in a career in the oil and gas sector.

It is not just the architecture that has changed. New subjects have been added to the curriculum to allow pupils more choice and to play to their strengths and abilities. Recognising that advances in hand held mobile technology now influ­ence even primary pupils, computer science has been added to Lower 5 classes where they are taught how to use Scratch – an education tool that helps develop important concepts behind programming languages. This online community programme for pupils aged 8-16 helps to further their coding tech­niques and give them the skills to create their own games and animations.

In the Upper School, the teaching of Technology, Graphic Design, Eco­nomics and Engineering Science have emerged while languages such as Span­ish and Mandarin will both be on offer in addition to French, German and Latin. Nevertheless, with a significant number of parents employed in the oil and gas industries together with those who work at the city’s two world class universities, it is perhaps no surprise that the school has a disproportionate number of pupils choosing to read Sci­ence and Engineering. As a school we benefit from proximity to these univer­sities with pupils being able to sample university lectures and programmes. This has led to pupils to studying for Open University Modules alongside their Advanced Highers in Upper 6.

A strong sense of community is kept alive by the school’s Former Pupil Club founded in 1906. One current pupil is the fifth generation of his family to pass through the school: in modern parlance this suggests a strong degree of brand loyalty. The tradition of girls – and some boys – wearing tartan kilts has been longstanding, as has been a strong academic record. The school has a long record of pupils going on to study at leading Scottish and UK uni­versities while over the last four years Albyn School has been credited by the Sunday Times with the best academic results of all independent and state schools in both Aberdeen and the Shire.

Outside the classroom, the school’s budding thespians took on the horror and naked ambition of Macbeth in 2014, and the all-time classic Oliver! earlier this year and are in the midst of rehearsals for Shakespeare’s The Tem­pest, which will be performed next year.

On the theme of Shakespeare, Albyn’s choirs celebrated the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth with an evening featuring music and drama from every century since his birth. This concert included quotes from his plays and sonnets with the concert ending with the whole cast performing ‘Non, Nobis Domine’ from Henry V, followed by a rendition of Puck’s monologue from a ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’.

In November, the school was hon­oured to host world-renowned pianist, Clelia Iruzun, who delighted an audience of parents, pupils and keen pianists from outside the Albyn community. Clelia also held a piano masterclass for talented, young pianists in Lower and Upper School, which was very well received. The Music Department has also expanded and can boast 27 different vocal and instrumental groups that perform on a regular basis at school events and around the city. Most recently, they took part in a Pianothon in one of Aberdeen’s busiest shopping centres, Union Square.

In sport, the contemporary and tra­ditional also hold sway. With a former Aberdeen football professional (Murray McCulloch) leading the Games and PE Department and with a former Olympic rower (Kim Thomas), the pupils can par­ticipate in a wide range of sports.

While the school’s netball teams have regularly competed at the highest level of the Scottish Cup and our hockey and tennis players have long played their part. It is now the case that our boys’ football teams hold their own in the Independent School’s League while our rowers, under the tutelage of Kim Thomas, won gold at the UK National championships last year.

Perhaps the most radical shift in Albyn’s sporting calendar has been the introduction of skiing and snowboard­ing into the curriculum. Recognising the resources that are available within the city and five Scottish ski resorts being a drive away, Albyn’s pupils train throughout the autumn to compete at the Scottish Schools’ Snowsports Asso­ciation races.

Plans are now in place for the school’s entry into the Independent Schools Ski and Snowboard Championships at Les Deux Alpes in December. With this wide selection of sports along with the new netball court, fitness suite and the addi­tion of sports such as skiing on to the curriculum, pupils have successfully competed in sporting events locally and nationally.

The choice of co-curricular activi­ties has been expanded greatly with nearly 100 different activities availa­ble throughout the Lower and Upper School. These range from music to sports to gardening to computer coding to Young Enterprise. There is an activ­ity to suit most needs and if there is an activity the pupils would like to intro­duce they have the opportunity to bring this to Pupil Council meetings where the wants and needs of the pupils are brought forward to the Senior Manage­ment Team to consider.

A large majority of pupils take part in fundraising events for different chari­ties and participate in philanthropy work throughout the year. Albyn School has one of the highest uptakes of pupils taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme in Scotland with 71 pupils (98% of Upper 3) working towards their Bronze Award, 37 working towards their Silver and 19 working towards their Gold. Duke of Edinburgh exhibitions have taken the pupils from local locations such as the Cairngorms and further afield to the snowy terrain in Chamonix.

School trips are another asset of an Albyn experience. Activities week, held every May, has given the opportunity for pupils to take part in educational and sporting trips to the likes of Iceland, Barcelona, Nice, Rome and Morocco. In addition to this, every two years, the school offers a month long trip for the pupils to undertake conservational work and the building of new schools. In 2014, a group of pupils ventured to Southern Africa and in 2016 pupils will travel to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Dedicated sports trips take the pupils to the likes of France and Austria on ski trips and Spain for varies different sports tours.

The school believes that an education not only includes work undertaken in the classroom but also experiences and travel out with the normal confinement of the school.

Albyn School prides itself on the long­lasting relationship created from the minute a pupil starts their Albyn jour­ney to long after they have departed. The school maintains a close relationship with its former pupils and encourages them to keep in touch through reunions or a catch up with favourite members of staff and can acquire copies of past school memorabilia. The school holds events in honour of the former pupils such as the annual Founder’s Day in June and a cheese and wine evening in November. An Albyn education really does last a lifetime.

Albyn values its local community and family feel but it also values being in a region that dips its toes in the ocean and has its head in the mountains. The School’s motto ‘Vigour et Juven­tas’, meaning youth and vigour, can be found in every one of the pupils at Albyn School.

Come and visit us at our next Open Morning on Friday January 8 2016 at 10am.