History of Northfield Academy

Northfield Secondary School opened on 27 August 1956 with a roll of 479 students in the first two years of a Secondary course and 34 members of staff under the leadership of its first Headmaster, James S M Eddison, who served in this position till June 1962, was awarded the OBE for his services to education.  Head Teachers to serve the School – and subsequently the Academy – have been:

James S M Eddison OBE 1956 – 1962
Alistair McKenzie 1962 – 1973
Ian McDowall 1973 – 1992
David Eastwood 1992 – 1996
Tom Robertson 1996 – 2003
Sue Muncer 2003 – 2012
Neil Hendry 2012 – 2017
Gavin Morrison 2018 – 2019
Douglas Watt 2020 – 2023
Craig McDermott 2023 – Present

The school was erected at the highest point in the City on ground with a southward exposure, commanding wide views extending from the sea to the hills of Lower Deeside.

The school was officially opened on Tuesday 30 October 1956 by Mr J K Hall, former Convener of the Education Committee, with Lord Provost George Stephen and other dignitaries in attendance.  It was at that time considered to be a showcase school, well-equipped and with some excellent facilities.

Northfield Secondary School was built to accommodate 850 students, but by 1960 the school roll had swollen to over 1100 and additional hut accommodation had to be built in the school playground.  In January 1961 the numbers attending had soared to 1357 and most of Stockethill Primary School had been acquired as an annexe.  While the school roll then dropped significantly, by 1975 it had climbed again to a peak of 1562 and remained at around 1500 until 1980, when the roll again began to decline. Throughout all this time, S1 students were taught almost exclusively in the Stockethill Annexe.

In the early years the school had a good relationship with its parents and community and meetings of parents of the August and January intakes regularly attracted between 200 and 300 parents.  The School Log for the period notes the first ever telecast of the BBC Schools’ Television Service in September 1957 and the winning of the Secondary School Shield final at Pittodrie in May 1958 with a 5-1 win over Hilton – the first major success in football, to be followed by many more triumphs over the years.  In September 1959 126 students received the first-ever anti-polio vaccinations, while major flu epidemics show significant absence.  One such epidemic in February 1966 saw 345 student absentees in one day, and 14 members of staff absent 10 days later, plus the School Secretary and Head Teacher! Eventually all schools were closed for two days on 3 March to give an opportunity to recover from the epidemic.  On 1 June 1964, of course, the school was closed in common with others, on the orders of the Medical Officer of Health, Dr MacQueen, at the height of the typhoid outbreak, to be reopened on 22 June for morning sessions only.

The first O-Grade examinations took place in April 1963, with 21 students sitting the Arithmetic exam.  Those 21 students obtained a total of 93 passes, with 5 boys obtaining 6 passes out of 6 subjects and 3 girls obtaining 5 passes out of 5 subjects.

In November 1961 students planted trees in the school grounds to commemorate National Tree Planting Week, and continued to do so for a number of years.

Northfield has for long given opportunities for students to go on excursions, both home and abroad, with tremendous educational and social benefits.  It is perhaps worth noting that in 1962, in a magazine published to commemorate the trip to Belgium and Holland, it was estimated that the party had travelled some 2354 miles at a cost of £18 per head, to which the Town Council contributed £5 per head.

In May 1967 an Inspectors’ Report, following a major inspection in February, stated how impressed the Inspectors had been with the work on extra-curricular activities and by the stress laid on social aspects of the students’ education.  These have continued to be features of the school’s work through the efforts of many committed staff.

In February 1970 the first-ever Careers Convention held at the school attracted about 1000 parents and students and the following month the School Hall was laid out as a French Market, with over 100 students in French acting as buyers and sellers.  This was in the nature of a farewell to a French exchange teacher.

In 1970 the school officially ceased to be known as Northfield Secondary School, and was renamed Northfield Academy – one of ten comprehensive schools to be situated in Aberdeen.  In October 1970 the School Log records that a Temperance Lecture was given to four second year classes which lasted over one hour!  The first Rank Xerox photocopier was installed in the school in April 1975.  On 21 December 1976 some senior students transmitted a record request programme over the Hall and School loudspeaker.  The Head Teacher commented in the School Log that this was “a venture not to be repeated.”

The darkest days for Northfield Academy undoubtedly followed the fatal minibus accident of 30 May 1977, when the school minibus crashed that morning and two students, Eleanor Davidson and Carol Dow, lost their lives.  A third student, Brenda Campbell, died a few days later.  Other students and members of staff were injured in the accident.  The school was sustained by the supportive sympathy of the community and both the elected and professional members of the Authority, while the School Chaplain was a perpetual source of help and encouragement.  No one, however, could forget the terrible loss to the families concerned.  It is cruelly ironic that during that time school students won a National Road Safety Competition for the first of three consecutive years.

Having mounted a number of successful and well-supported entertainments previously, the school produced “The Mikado” in March 1978 to full houses over 3 nights.  In fact additional seating had to be brought in on the second night and 500 people saw the final performance.  Since then the school has successfully performed “The Pirates of Penzance”, “The Sound of Music”, “Rock Nativity” and, more recently, “Men Should Weep” (1994), “Oliver” (1995), “My Fair Lady” (1997), “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” (1998), “Bugsy Malone” (1999) and “Toad of Toad Hall” (2000).

On an unforgettable day on 11 January 1980, an excited bullock was cornered in the back playground after escaping from Aberdeen Mart.  The animal was in the grounds from 9.50 a.m. until 1.15 p.m. before it was finally captured.

Throughout the 1980s Northfield, in common with other schools, went through a significant phase of development to introduce the new Standard Grade qualifications.  It also went through the industrial action of 1984 and 1985 perpetrated by teaching unions as a result of excessive workload engendered by the new qualifications and other initiatives and pressure.

During that time, however, Northfield’s very existence was threatened as councillors debated the closure of one school from among Hilton, Linksfield, Northfield and Summerhill.

Eventually it was decided to merge Hilton Academy with Powis Academy, but not before all these schools had undergone a considerable period of uncertainty about the future.

Subsequently Summerhill Academy was also closed, resulting in Muirfield Primary School becoming part of the Northfield ASG.

In 1984 a Games Hall facility for the school was agreed by the Education Committee.  This was only made possible by of slippage in the Authority’s Capital Building Programme and plans being complete for the Northfield building.  The Games Hall, completed and handed over to the school in September 1986, has been a tremendous asset for Northfield and its community over the years since.

In 1992 Ian McDowall retired as Headmaster and, with the appointment as Head Teacher, in June of that year, of David Eastwood, a respected educational innovator, the school underwent considerable change and challenge.  The configuration of the school day was drastically revised as it changed from an 8 x 40 minute period day to 4 x 80 minute periods.  At the same time departments within the school were challenged to reflect on educational philosophy and to review what was done to encourage pupil progress and achievement.

In 1994 the school became the first in Scotland to pilot a computer-based Integrated Learning System using Successmaker software in English and Maths.  All other pilot schools taking part were south of the Border.  The school then also took part in an Improving School Effectiveness project in 1995, whereby all staff and a sample of pupils and parents completed questionnaires focusing on quality of provision and effectiveness of systems throughout the school.  As a result of criticism of shortcomings emanating from the questionnaires, a series of task groups worked hard to enable improvements, including the institution of school dress code following large-scale comprehensive staff, pupil and parent consultation; provision of a new school handbook; improvements in homework policy; and the establishment of an elected Steering Group to oversee improvement in school effectiveness, the work of the task groups and consultative development planning.  The initiative came to a formal conclusion in November 1997 after the initial questionnaire had been redistributed to staff, pupils and parents during the summer term and results showed improvement, often significant improvement in 51 of the 54 areas highlighted for staff.  The school then continued to build on these results in following years.

In late 1995 the school presented its most ambitious production yet in staging the musical “Oliver” by Lionel Bart.  Months of hard work and rehearsal saw the show open to sell-out crowds, including special matinees for local Primary schools.  On entering the school doors ticket-holders were met by a Band of Hope and fire-and-brimstone preacher, leading to a busy Victorian street scene running the length of the main corridor to stalls and exhibits on the bottom corridor and the results of curricular work centred on the production.  Further shows produced thereafter included “My Fair Lady” (1997), “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” (1998),  “Bugsy Malone” (1999), “Toad of Toad Hall” (2000), “Van Goth’s Fame Academy” (2003), “Oh, What a Lovely War” (2004).

In 1996 the school held 40th Anniversary celebrations with a series of events, a comprehensive school exhibition and a Reunion dinner for staff and former staff, attended by current and     former staff.  The Reunion was attended by Miss Buchan, oldest surviving member and former Depute Head Teacher, who cut the celebration cake specially provided.  The anniversary year ended with a very successful Christmas Fayre in December which raised more than £3,000.

On David Eastwood’s departure in 1996 to work for the education authority, the mantle of Head Teacher fell on Tom Robertson.  A Fifer, Rangers supporter (no one is perfect), enthusiastic motivator and workaholic, Mr Robertson set out to continue and supplement the innovations begun by Mr Eastwood.

Also in 1996  a further extension to the school was opened, housing custom-built facilities for Science, Geography, Support for Learning (also incorporating Behaviour Support) and Technical.

On Friday 14 November 1997 a national conference on education – “Making it Happen in Aberdeen City” -was held in the school.  Head Teachers from Primary, Secondary and Nursery schools in the City attended, together with representatives from other education authorities totalling 350 people in all.  Keynote addresses were delivered by Brian Wilson, MP, Minister of State for Education, who spoke of Government policy on Target-Setting and Improving Literacy and Numeracy, and made special mention of the ILS programme in Northfield Academy; John Stodter, Director of Education, Aberdeen City Council, who spoke of Standards and Quality initiatives in Aberdeen City and commended the committed and hard-working teaching force in the City; and Archie McGlynn, HM Chief Inspector of schools, who summed up the day at the end of the afternoon session.  Delegates were able to attend two of 17 Conference Workshops offered during the day, a number of these being presented by local schools, Northfield among them.  The inaugural meeting of a Pupil Forum for Aberdeen City was also held, Northfield being represented by Craig Cowie and Wendy Tosh.  The conference was planned and organised by an Assistant Head Teacher seconded from the school, but effectively represented a good working school partnership, with Senior Management, Janitors and Technician staff working very hard towards its undoubted success.

For staff and pupils alike, however, the conference was mainly memorable because, in the run-up, the 25 “temporary” huts which had decorated the school grounds for 40 years, were demolished in the weeks prior to the event.

Significant recent progress has been made in a series of initiatives – New Community School provision; 3sixty° (University for Children in Communities); links with Aberdeen College to provide Engineering, Painting & Decorating and Construction courses for pupils and Hairdressing courses within a salon constructed on school premises; the attachment of a school based police officer, a youth worker and an independent student counsellor; senior pupil induction; the formation of xl clubs in support of disaffected pupils; and staff devoting time to a restorative justice initiative designed to resolve conflict or offence by mediation and other techniques.

In 2001 the school underwent HMI inspection and was commended in several areas.  Key strengths were identified as:

  • The very good leadership of the head teacher, supported by an effective senior management team.
  • The high level of staff commitment to providing good experiences for the pupils.
  • The strong efforts being made to build a partnership with parents.
  • Good overall standards of teaching.
  • Very good support for pupils by guidance and support for learning staff.
  • The high quality of pastoral care provided by staff.

Unfortunately, during the time of the inspection and subsequently, the school went through a period of significant staff shortage in a number of subjects.  This resulted for a time in senior staff giving practical support to departments affected and increasing use of supply staff, among them members of permanent relief staff.  This situation was only subsequently eased by the use of probationer teachers to fill vacancies.  The situation, however, has stabilised in the past year or so.

Northfield Academy continues to serve the needs of pupils in its community, providing a sound education and good development opportunities for them.  Cultural and sports trips to Maastricht, Holland, and a bi-annual visit to Canada and the USA for young footballers have proved popular and character-forming, while the school has also taken part in annual Caretakers of the Environment Conferences world-wide for many years.

The school celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2006.  Over the years the school has been fortunate indeed to have many staff of high quality and commitment to the youngsters of Northfield and their ongoing education.  They have given unstintingly of time and effort, curricular and extra-curricular, providing education and opportunities for many youngsters with social disadvantage and learning and behavioural difficulties and for many youngsters of great ability and potential.  The school has also been fortunate to have many pupils whose personalities, talents and generosity have contributed to a caring, happy and lively school community.