The value Earlston High School places on vocational education is obvious from just one glance at its brand new salon facility, officially opened by Joshua Miller of internationally renowned Charlie Miller Hairdressing (pictured) in January. Huge, airy and as well-equipped as any high street salon, it boasts two brand new backwashes, nine styling positions and two immaculate manicure tables. More than simply functional, the space reflects the charm of the entire school, which nestles among the rolling hills around the village of Earlston in the Borders. The school has ensured the facilities are matched by excellent vocational education, appointing Ambition Centre for Training to deliver the Skills for Work course. Every week two educators from ACT, Tracey McKeown and Wendy Gobby, both working hairdressers, provide the latest training to the pupils.
With more than 80 per cent of its pupils coming from a wide geographical area that stretches from St Boswells to Oxton and over to Westruther and Melrose, the school has become a focus for the Scottish Borders. It opened just three years ago, and immediately the management team began developing its vocational offering so it could cater for its intake of rural pupils. The very next year the hairdressing course was launched to an enthusiastic third year. Now, halfway through their second year, the 16 girls in the class are a credit to their school. Smartly dressed in their salon tunics, embroidered with their names and the school’s logo, they are friendly, communicative and polite, everything a professional hairdresser needs to be.
“It’s been an amazing course,” says Emma Newton, aged 16. “I am so much more confident now, especially after my work placement, when I worked in a real salon.”
As she chats, her friend Emma Maxwell, who is practising dressing Emma’s long hair, joins in: “We know more now about how important it is to keep the salon tidy, about health and safety and how to behave with clients.”
The course, which slots into the timetable alongside a period of PE and PSE is in its second year, with the newest cohort from third year preparing for their work experience. To get into the course everyone must apply and then be interviewed by ACT before they are accepted. It has been hugely oversubscribed, with just 16 girls making it on to the course. Many of them, like those from the first cohort now in their fourth year of school, are really keen to take up hairdressing as a career. Others are keen on fashion, theatre or beauty, areas Jill McDonald (depute headteacher) sees as complemented by hairdressing training. “The Skills for Work course is very good for developing skills beyond the classroom such as confidence and team-working.”
In preparation for the official opening, the girls have been practising their styling and developing mood boards to demonstrate to VIPs from SQA, ACT, and Charlie Miller. Presenting their work is as much a part of the course as learning about shampooing and drying hair, health and safety in the salon, presentation and communication skills and how to work as a team. But dressing hair is clearly the favourite aspect and one they can show to their friends beyond the course. For the launch Samantha has been perfecting a bow bun on Eilidh Hogg, a style she developed for a friend who had a posh wedding to go to.
All agree that it’s great to see the girls working away on their hairdressing skills or building up their mood boards in the large, well-lit salon. Thanks to decisions made by the school’s senior management team, they are learning real vocational skills from experienced hairdressers in a fantastic environment.