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Cults and Northfield: One city, two different worlds

Cults and Northfield schools
Cults and Northfield academies in Aberdeen.

Standing at a height of more than 200ft, Northfield Tower looms over the 800-pupil secondary school below it.

Northfield Academy has been providing education to children of Northfield and Mastrick for more than 50 years.

The first-ever O-grade exams took place at the Granitehill Place secondary with 21 pupils landing 93 passes out of six different subjects.

Fast forward to the 21st century and the latest available exam league tables show it is bottom of a particular kind of league table.

According to the official figures, only 7% of the school’s pupils left with five or more Highers in 2021.

However, a mere five miles away it seems academic success is in the water at Cults Academy with 78% of youngsters gaining five or more Highers.

There are other ways of measuring success: not everyone rates these league tables that put Cults and Northfield schools at opposite ends.

But, if they are a measure of anything, what is it that makes two areas of one small-ish city so very different?

How the two schools stake up when compared with others in Aberdeen.

Northfield and Cults

It is important to say that the gap between these two areas is not as big when other factors are taken into account.

It is a closer run thing when comes to kids from either school moving on to “positive destinations”. That means going on to education, work or training of any kind – all constructive things to do after school.

The data shows 93% of Northfield’s school leavers went on to positive destinations while at Cults Academy it was 97%.

But, if we take the “five plus Highers” as some sort of standard, however controversial, the gap between these two is much bigger.

So what is that makes so many kids from Cults secure five or more Higher passes while the rate at Northfield is so low?

The area around Northfield Academy has rows and rows of small semi-detached houses with buses and cars roaring along Provost Fraser Drive.

Cults, on the other hand, is a leafy suburb with bigger houses – often with two or three cars in their immaculate driveways.

No name and pack drill, but I hear the odd story of parents moving into Cults just so they can bag a place at the school.

It’s not just a case of university being a given – Oxford and Cambridge are seen as genuine options.


‘Unfair’ comparison

Northfield resident, Mary Hill feels it is not fair to compare the two schools.

Her own daughter went to Northfield Academy and works in the oil and gas industry having gone to university after school.

Mrs Hill believes the children at the school are not given the “right opportunities or chances” and there should be a focus away from academic subjects.

She also believes there is a cultural divide as well as an educational one.

Mrs Hill said: “Parents in Cults have gone through university and they understand the system and what is expected.

“It’s not that the parents in Northfield don’t care or the school doesn’t care.

“It’s just that it’s a different place.  It’s unfair to compare it with Cults.

I said to somebody before ‘you better watch what you say about Northfield kids because they will wipe your backside when you’re in a care home’.”

Mary Hill, Northfield.

“We can’t condemn Northfield and say it’s all rubbish.  They have got problems like they haven’t got enough staff.

“Northfield pupils can achieve in their own way if they’re given the right chances,

“The kids used to all get work experience and there used to be a lot of local employers who took these kids on but they’re nearly all gone now.

“I said to somebody before ‘you better watch what you say about Northfield kids because they will wipe your backside when you’re in a care home’.”

Some Cults pupils aspire to get to Oxford University.  Picture by Shutterstock.

‘It is quite a wealthy area’

A sixth-year Cults Academy sixth year pupil, who did not want to be named, said the Quarry Road secondary’s success is perhaps down to two key elements.

She believes that the affluence of parents in the area helps their children because some can afford private tutors.

The pupil said that while she did not receive additional help outside school it is not uncommon.

She said: “It is quite a wealthy area so it may be the types of people that go to Cults Academy.

“The teachers are very good and perhaps it is that people tend to work quite hard.

“There is an ethic of ‘let’s try and do our best.’

“They (the school) definitely encourage you to do other things like jobs, apprenticeships and college.

“But I think there is an assumption that most people will go to university.

“I think quite a few people have tutors. I don’t.

“But quite a lot of people do have private tutors or that kind of thing.  I got by okay without it.”

Cults Academy recently had it’s leavers’ ball cancelled after “appalling behaviour” on the final day of school.

Cults Academy school building
Cults Academy, Cults, Aberdeen.  Picture by Darrell Benns.

What Aberdeen City Council have to say

Aberdeen City Council said that the percentage of young people gaining five or more Highers was “one benchmark.”

The local authority said schools in the city were “successful in creating a range of pathways” for youngsters which include university, college and jobs.

An Aberdeen City Council spokeswoman said: “Our schools have been successful in creating a range of pathways for young people which serve their interests and future aspirations, whether that be to seek employment or progress to further and higher education.

“The benchmark of the percentage of young people achieving five Higher level qualifications is one benchmark.

“It is essential that we continue to deliver pathways for our young people which interest and motivate them.

“We are currently working with business partners, employers, NESCol, Robert Gordon University and Aberdeen University to continue the progress we have made in developing such a wide range of pathways.”

Traditional exams have returned to schools this year.

Scratching the surface

Looking at the exam pass data alone it seems the chasm between Cults and Northfield schools is pretty substantial.

However, when you scratch the surface you find out the factors behind the respective percentages for both of the schools.

Numbers only tell part of the story for the class of 2021, who were faced with huge changes as secondary education got to grips with the impact of Covid-19.

The success in exams will give us percentages but it does not factor in different elements like the circumstances at home and parent’s ability to pay for extra help.

Many youngsters at Cults and Northfield schools and beyond have begun taking their exams in recent weeks with many facing the traditional tests for the very first time.

Results will drop through doors, email inboxes and pop up on smartphones throughout the summer.

But we have another year to wait on the breakdown of success for individual schools.

This will give us an idea of how much progress has been made by pupils behind the gates at Cults and Northfield academies.

More from the Schools and Family team

Covid in schools: Government calls an end to weekly reports

Are Aberdeen’s iconic flumes gone forever?

Leavers’ ball cancelled after ‘appalling behaviour’ at Aberdeen school