Scotland’s independent think tank
Scotland’s independent think tank

Mccoll: we need new schools to stop wasting human potential

UK’s departure from the Common Agricultural Policy should spark a debate about the future of rural Scotland, says Reform Scotland

  • Newlands Junior College founder calls for a new approach across Scotland
  • Conference hears from former students: “I got to go ….. it changed my life”

The Commission on School Reform (CSR), the independent group of education experts set up by the think tank Reform Scotland, today hosted a conference on improving the educational and employment prospects of disadvantaged children.

Engaging the Disengaged – Alternative Approaches to Education heard from Newlands Junior College founder Jim McColl and some of its former students, as well as representatives from projects such as Scran Academy, Cyrenians and CentreStage.

Jim McColl said:

“In Scotland every year about 20% of our statutory school leavers do not go on to a job, or further education, or training. They are simply lost. Some get insecure low-paid jobs. Most spend much of their lives unemployed. 

“Each case is both a personal tragedy, a waste of human potential and ultimately a cost to society. Why are we allowing this to happen? There is a better way, and we have seen it here today. 

“Proof that this model works has been heard in the stories of Edan and Ross. Sadly, not all young people are given the chance to find their way through like they did. But we can change that.”

CASE STUDY – Ross – “It changed my life”

If one Newlands Junior College story exemplifies the fine line between despair and well-being it is about Ross McArthur, who has agreed that we can use his real name. 

Born in Knightswood on the north side of the Clyde, he was a successful learner at primary school and then attended Knightswood Secondary School, one of the largest secondary schools in Scotland with a roll of 1,400 pupils. This was out of the official catchment area for Newlands College, seven miles away across the river Clyde. He finished his first three years at secondary school but his behaviour was becoming more erratic.

“I was in the top class. I was fairly smart and doing OK. But I probably spent more time out of classes than in them. I was being a wee twat,’’ he says.

He does not know why he stopped attending classes at school. “I just didn’t like the whole way we were taught. I couldn’t sit in a class and shut up for 30 minutes. I could not do it. At primary school, I was a star kid, then at secondary, it all fell apart. It wasn’t to do with the teachers. It was more the friends group that I was in, wasn’t the greatest. Some of them were acting up and I tried to copy that and I ended up going from there. Looking back, it wasn’t me, but I didn’t notice this at the time. I just lost the plot,’’ he recalls.

Ross said he became increasingly depressed, moping around in his room all day. He would lie in bed until noon and he wouldn’t even come out to eat. “I stopped doing things that I enjoyed.’’

His mother, Linda, recalls the change. “He didn’t settle well into secondary school: he found the size quite overwhelming, began to struggle with the work, and bullying that had started in primary became more severe. He found that his teachers didn’t really know him. Initially, because he was a quiet and well-behaved lad, he became overlooked: unnoticed. At first he was the kind of boy who caused no bother so suffered in silence. However, his behaviour changed and he began to misbehave, to act out. He became quite cheeky and was starting to get into trouble in class.’’

Ross is mature enough now to see that he was fortunate. “I had a really good pastoral care teacher and she recommended Newlands. I was one of the only pupils from the North of Glasgow to go to Newlands. At first, I wasn’t too keen because I didn’t want to leave my friends behind. I wasn’t sure how this would work. A lot of the other kids at Newlands knew each other beforehand, whereas I didn’t know anybody.’’

His parents were extremely keen for Ross’s move but when Newlands asked Knightswood to make a contribution to the transport costs, the school raised an objection at the cost of support. There was a temporary stalemate and Ross’s mother phoned Philip Graham [the Newlands Junior College Deputy Principal]to raise her complaint.

“When Ross’s Mum phoned us, she was angry and insistent. At first, I thought we were under attack, when she said, ‘Your junior college is a postcode lottery and prejudicial. My son cannot get access to your college because of the postcode he lives in. If we lived south of the river, he would have this educational opportunity’. When I came off the phone, I found myself agreeing with her,” says Graham.

Ross, stuck in Knightswood, was not heading for a positive future. “Having been, by any measure in primary school and early secondary, a model wee guy, getting on at school and loving life, several issues occurred that turned him into a bit of a class clown,’’ says Graham.

The admissions team consulted Iain White, the Newlands Junior College Principal, and they agreed to cover all of the transport costs as part of Ross’ scholarship to Newlands. Knightswood’s head teacher eventually agreed to the wishes of Ross’s parents. Ross started Newlands Junior College in 2017.

“So I got to go … and it changed my life,’’ says Ross.

Education consultant Gillian Hunt, in her review of Newlands, described the situation. “Ross absolutely flourished at Newlands. Although he remained a quiet boy, he made many friends, was mature and could be relied upon. Although academic work was still challenging he began to see real success gaining academic and vocational qualifications. He enjoyed and was inspired by his work experience. His long-term, but so far private (for fear of being bullied about it) interest in politics was now out in the open and growing. He has since been elected to the UK Youth Parliament, the Scottish Youth Parliament and to the Glasgow Youth Council.’’

“When it was time for Ross to graduate from Newlands he had gained all his academic and vocational qualifications, and had attended an interview with Arnold Clark for a business administration apprenticeship. Graduation day for Ross was a mixture of excitement about the future, tinged with sadness at leaving a special place. He had gained so much at NJC: his confidence, qualifications, friends and success in politics but he was moving on from a place he loved. He also felt a little in limbo as he was waiting to hear the outcome of his apprenticeship interview. He didn’t have to wait long. As he was called to the stage to graduate it was announced to all that he had been successful in gaining his Modern Apprenticeship. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house!’’ 

CASE STUDY – Edan – “My school just wanted rid of me”

Edan says that his time at Newlands Junior College changed his life. He is almost 21, in his fourth year of business administration at Arnold Clark, and now dad to 11-month old son Darragh. 

Towards the end of his time at the college he had an interview for Arnold Clark and he says that he actually interviewed them! He had asked, what options do you have for me at Arnold Clark? Arnold Clark worked extensively with NJC providing work experience, vocational training and qualifications, apprenticeships and mentoring. Edan had therefore met Arnold Clark executives in the college, knew about the company and was thinking about his possible future career there. He had his sights set on a job at the top.

It sounds like Edan was always a confident lad who had life mapped out and was going to succeed. In some ways he did but he confesses that he didn’t look forward to learning and didn’t like going to school. He says that his teachers often “lost it” with him. He says that it wasn’t the case of he and his friends deciding whether to skive school, it actually got to the point of them saying, shall we go to school today? 

Edan’s mum tried to get him to go and his teachers despaired of him. Teachers said that if he only put his mind to it he would do well. Edan got his scholarship to NJC at the end of S4, however, was then only 15, as he had started school at age four so could not have left school at that point.

Edan says that when he started at Newlands it was like a switch going on. The atmosphere was completely different. He started in August 2015 and says that he was recently looking at photos of him with other NJC students from September that year and he looked so happy, that he belonged. Induction and team/relationship building took up the first weeks at Newlands. This formed a strong base for Edan and the other students. Edan says that the college showed him that teaching can be done differently and that his time there taught him to “put the work in”. He states that at school teachers had to help you but at Newlands teachers wanted to help you. As many other students have said, Edan believes that he was treated as an equal by the adults at Newlands.

The prospect of a guaranteed apprenticeship or job was an incentive to Edan but he knew he needed to put the work in if he was going to be considered. Edan had always wanted to do well but the college helped him believe that he actually could do well. At Newlands teachers would say, “I can see you being a…” and he started to believe it. He also recognises the influence of the successful business people linked to Newlands: seeing and speaking to them regularly in the college, it was something to aspire to. 

Whist at Newlands Edan was mentored by Alex, one of the directors at Clyde Blowers, who was also the deputy chairman of the NJC Board of Trustees. This relationship was key to Edan’s success as Alex was able to provide advice and support throughout his journey at Newlands. This mentoring relationship has continued into Edan’s time at Arnold Clark. Being able to seek advice from an experienced business person that he trusts has been invaluable. Edan sees Alex as not only his mentor, but his friend and one who can be called upon when needed.

Due to his position as a former student and with a desire to help to grow the junior college model, Edan offered himself up as “the finished product” to speak with individuals and organisations. In early 2018, along with fellow former student Anthony, he confidently addressed a group of 140 senior educators at a leadership conference dinner, sharing his NJC experiences. In summer the same year he met with the deputy chair of the Education Committee for the City of Edinburgh, Councillor Alison Dickie, again to share his experiences, this time with a view to discussing the possibility of the growth of the junior college model.

Edan says that Newlands not only helped with his education, in getting him his job but has helped him for the rest of his life. 



  1. The Commission on School Reform was set up by Reform Scotland and the Centre of Scottish Public Policy. More information, including its membership, can be seen here.
  2. Reform Scotland is Scotland’s independent, non-partisan think tank, with a commitment to: 
  • Increasing prosperity
  • A positive climate for entrepreneurs and innovators
  • Reform and modernisation of public services
  • Widening opportunity for all
  • Compassion for those who slip through the cracks
  • Greater courage and appetite for risk among policy-makers.

For media contact Message Matters (Andy Maciver, 07855 261 244, [email protected])