Oscar winner Dame Emma Thompson cried when she heard that a Scottish school had won a prestigious education prizes, she revealed.
Dunoon Grammar has been crowned winner of the T4 Education World’s Best School Prize for community collaboration in recognition of the work it has done both home and abroad over the last decade.
Dame Emma and her husband, Greg Wise, have strong connections to the Argyll town and own a holiday home nearby.
“You’ve put Dunoon Grammar School into a kind of global recognition moment,” Dame Emma told pupils at the school.
“The spotlight’s on you (this), small as we know, rural community in Scotland. It’s the most extraordinary achievement.
“It actually made me cry when I heard about it. We’re so thrilled for you, and so proud of you, and I hope you all just feel, well, on top of the world because, at this moment in time, that’s where you are.”
Mr Wise has visited the school on several occasions and had spoken at leavers’ events, said head teacher David Mitchell.
First minister Nicola Sturgeon also sent her congratulations to the school.
She said: “Congratulations to everyone at Dunoon Grammar School. This is a fantastic achievement and well-deserved recognition for all the hard work and effort you have put in to support your local community.”
The award filled him with “so much pride” he said. He and his children attended the school.
“There is just something special about Dunoon Grammar School,” he said.
“All I want for every single child that comes into this building, as they leave here having achieved their potential and having had a good time. That’s all I want.
“If every child leaves here with a positive memory, I’ve done my job.”
Much of the work in achieving the award was spearheaded by Paul Gallanagh, principal teacher of computing and IT, whom Mr Mitchell said “deserves a lot of thanks”.
“He has driven a huge amount of this and I would like to thank him for all of his hard work.”
The school was recognised for its work in combating the problem of “brain drain” in its rural community.
“Dunoon Grammar has suffered from the brain drain, where the young people have had no real option but to pack up and leave the town,” said Mr Gallanagh.
“As a school we very much wanted to address that.”
Working with partners, the school’s curriculum was adapted to provide 50 courses which reflect key sectors of the local economy such as tourism and maritime studies.
Pupils at the school also worked on delivering their own projects in the surrounding community, such as bingo nights for elderly people in nearby care homes during the Covid pandemic, and heading out to Malawi to help build schools and hospitals.
The community of Dunoon, Mr Mitchell says, will be just as delighted with the award as those associated with the school
“Our vision statement has been about being at the heart of the community, striving together to achieve excellence,” he said.
“We’ll never rest on our laurels, never. We always want to improve the community. It just plays such an important role and I’m delighted that the community partners will be given that recognition.”
Plans have already been made for the prize money of 50,000 US dollars (£44,000) with the school looking to purchase a mini-bus which would enable them to do more community outreach work.
Mr Mitchell also has a dream, where a community room is established in the school with intergenerational peer-led workshops on topics such as languages and even wiring a plug.
“A lot of schools in Scotland are doing amazing things with their curriculum,” Mr Mitchell said.
“But to be recognised for the work we’re doing: it’s just amazing.
“Young people, particularly just now, are given negative press.
“I think this just shows that, not just in Dunoon Grammar School, but across the country, there are young people who want to make a difference.
“This recognition is going to give them such a huge boost.”