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Pictured: Jamie the Therapet joins the pupil's reading group each week.

There's a sense of excitement on Tuesday’s at Braes High School as pupils collect at the school’s entrance awaiting the arrival of Jamie.

All is not what it seems – Jamie is a Whippet and registered Therapet with Canine Concern Scotland Trust. He has been visiting the school for six years along with his volunteer owner Janette to support pupils with attainment, engagement, health and wellbeing.

Jamie has worked with around 100 Braes High pupils of all ages and spends one period in the library supporting Literacy and one period in the Numeracy Learning Space where pupils take part in a weekly 'Jamie challenge’.

Animal assisted learning isn’t common in schools, but Braes High has been running the successful project since 2018 which has led to significant improvements in literacy and numeracy.

It started as a pilot project in partnership with Canine Concern Scotland Trust’s ‘Reading with Dogs’ initiative to explore and analyse the impact of animal assisted learning. The school trialled a number of small, short term pilot projects to identify areas of impact and develop programmes for further development.

These projects looked at supporting learners with different barriers to learning including literacy issues, confidence, anxiety, attendance issues and control.

That’s when Braes Buddies was launched – a literacy-based programme for S1 (reading with Jamie). It was so successful that senior pupils started working with Jamie, focusing on the reading for understanding element of the National 5 exam.

Iain Livingstone, Braes High School Headteacher said: "Jamie’s presence in Braes, working with our young people has been really helpful in supporting them to enjoy their reading. He has helped build their confidence and to feel part of school life at Braes."

Jamie the therapet enjoys reading a book

Pictured: Jamie catches up with his own reading while he waits for the pupils to join him.

A rigorous selection process is in place for participants and a clearly structured programme of activities is in place to maintain positive progress. Pupils who have taken part in ‘Reading with Jamie’ have said:

  • "It makes me feel more confident about reading in front of others."
  • "It has helped with my reading and has made me more confident."
  • "Giving me more confidence to read out loud."
  • "I feel happier and calmer."
  • "I have been putting my hand up a lot more to answer questions in class and I read a lot more now too."

Councillor Iain Sinclair, spokesperson for Education said: “The success of Braes High's Reading with Jamie program exemplifies the transformative power of animal-assisted learning.

“This program's impact on engagement and literacy underscores its potential to bridge the attainment gap and uplift students' academic journey through learning in alternative and exciting ways."

Jamie's owner, Janette added: “It is testament to the commitment of the staff at Braes that they have embraced the opportunities a Therapet like Jamie can have in supporting the learning of identified pupils.

“From the outset, we were made to feel part of the Braes High school community and Jamie looks forward to his weekly sessions with the pupils.

“He even has his own school uniform, a Braes High tartan bandana and his matching school collar and lead that identifies him as part of the school community.”

The impact of “Braes Buddies” on engagement and participation is clear with all participants responding positively to the programme. Improvements in literacy are also evident both in the BGE and Senior school, which shows the potential of this programme to continue to support pupils and work to close the attainment gap.