Children in need of charity, support, good teachers and… alarm clocks

My last Blog focused on recognising the efforts and commitment of our staff and pupils in organising and participating in a week long act of remembrance for all those who gave their lives in war through My Time activities and assemblies; culminating last Friday with our very moving final remembrance service recognising the end of the Great War in 1918. However, our commitment to recognising the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1 did not end there and many of our staff and pupils attended the main Armistice service at the Oban War Memorial, where Angus and Katie, our School Captains, represented our school and marked our respect by laying a wreath.

Although the war ended at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the Armistice agreement was actually signed at 6 a.m. To mark this occasion and as part of the national Battles Over event, Pipers in countries all over the world began the day with a Lament at 6 a.m. Buglers then played Last Post at 6.55 p.m, marking the end of the day and signalling fires to be lit in 100 cities across the UK. I was proud to represent both our school and town by playing Last Post at the war memorial on the esplanade on Sunday evening as the last act of Remembrance this year.

It was back down to the central belt again early on Monday morning to attend a meeting at Larkhall Academy where I was welcomed by Andy Smith, the newly appointed but very talented and experienced Head Teacher. Andy was previously Head Teacher at Carluke High School and was elected to the position of President of School Leaders Scotland in 2015. I was also privileged to spend a week in Norway with Andy as part the Scottish College of Educational Leadership’s (SCEL) Excellence in Headship international exchange programme. (That was a mouthful, I agree). Whether receiving advice from the past President; sharing views on new experiences as part of the exchange; or hearing what is going on in Larkhall, I can always be sure that I will leave Andy being that little bit wiser. And that is the whole point of any coming together of Head Teachers, whether in Norway, Larkhall or Oban… and it is the whole point of the BOCSH Head Teacher meeting I attended on Monday.

No, we were not there to discuss kitchen appliances. BOCSH stands for Building Our Curriculum Self Help group. It was set up following the establishment of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) when it became clear the diversity of opportunity available to schools through CfE was great for those HTs with experience but a real challenge for many others and their communities. By gathering the most experienced Head Teachers together, the aim was to both collate and share good practice across all schools to offer professional learning opportunities to other schools, whilst also acting as a conduit of HT views to Education Scotland and the Scottish Government. This select group is limited to 20 Head Teachers taken from Local Authorities across Scotland.

This particular meeting focused on the development of the next professional learning conference which will be open to all schools. Last year I gave a short presentation on Post 16 Learning; whilst others gave presentations on Tracking, Attainment, Leadership… there were 9 presentations in total. At the end of the conference, schools were given the opportunity to go and spend a day in any school which led a presentation so they could get more detailed advice on how to take an area of interest forward. Many HTs or their DHTs came to Oban over three days last spring. I have to say that we learned just as much from our visitors as they likely did from us. Sharing good practice from people actually doing the same role in a school is the most valuable type of experience and training available.

Following similar previous discussions with fellow HTs some time ago I decided that we should try and further develop our parental engagement strategy and look to help parents, to help their children with their learning. Some schools have been offering after school opportunities for parents and their children to come into school and to learn about IT, crafts, food, literacy and numeracy etc. Dunoon Grammar have a very successful model. Other schools in the central belt have sought to go out into the communities to provide “Help your Kid” support programmes. Following discussions with our own Parent Council, we decided to follow the Outreach model.

So, after my meeting in Larkhall I rushed back up the road so that I could attend the first of our new family Outreach sessions in Argyll College, led by Debbie Gillies. The purpose of our Outreach programme is to help support children and families with their learning. Children can come themselves and get help with their homework. Maybe they just need access to an iPad or laptop. They can also come along with their parents or carers. We would like to offer Homework, literacy, Numeracy and IT support to anyone who would like help in these areas. However, to make the evening a wee bit more enticing, Debbie will also be running themed classes. The first of these, between now and Christmas, centres around craft skills and making Christmas decorations. If there are any locals who want to come along with or without your kids, get help with IT; maybe get an explanation and a wee hand with some aspect of numeracy or literacy; or if you just want to come and learn how to make Christmas decorations, please come along. You will be very welcome. We provide everything. There’s no charge.

Tuesday began by welcoming our pupils to school, followed by many discussions on late-coming. This is proving to be an issue with around 40 to 50 pupils arriving late each day on average. We have employed extra staff to analyse the attainment statistics; call home each day with concerns; hold discussions with pupils and parents; and even to go out to pupils’ houses to bring them into school. This latter strategy seems to work but the texts home and the wee chats although having some impact are still not bringing the number of “lates” down. We don’t count lates due to transport issues.

This problem is not one unique to Oban High School. Again, learning from my colleagues in other schools around Scotland, there remains an issue with attendance in most schools. I believe, based on my conversations with pupils, that there are two main reason for this. Firstly, huge numbers of our pupils are working in local businesses, many work numerous shifts and long hours. However, I believe that it is a good thing that pupils take on employment. As my consistent blog readers and my school community are well aware, I view the purpose of school to prepare youngsters for the world of work: so, part-time work itself helps prepare them for life and work after school.

The tiredness leading to lateness issue is not solely a direct consequence of work but of pupils not finding a sensible balance between work, school and social life. This requirement to balance all three is regularly discussed in PSEd classes and with pupils and parents of those who haven’t found the balance and with pupils whose health is being severely affected. I am pleased by the number of employers like John Horne in the Royal and Alex Needham at the Waterfront, amongst others, who have a policy of ensuring there is a sensible limit on the hours pupils work and ensure that the pupils finish no later than 10 pm. They also follow the law and send in their children’s work permits for those under 16; a law that requires the parent, employer, School and Council to sign off an under 16s right to work.

If there are pupils or parents reading this who are aware of pupils being forced to work long hours or without legal permits, please call the school so we can work together to ensure the health and welfare of our children.

The second cause is tiredness caused by pupils, particularly younger pupils, using electronic devices – phone, tablets, play stations, X-boxes – into the small hours of the night. “Bah humbug”, “nanny state”, “interfering” are all words and phrases thrown back at schools who raise this as a concern by some parents: but also met with the sad nods of agreement by most others. It is not easy being a parent, it is not easy enforcing rules, it is not easy facing the teenage tantrums that come at the best of times, far less when one has to impose a sanction, like removing a device when the use of that device is keeping a youngster awake until 4 am, leading to sleep deprivation, lateness for school, relationship difficulties throughout the day with teachers and peers, caused by their bad temper, caused by a lack of sleep. A vicious cycle!

The not so easy answer is for parents, when confronted with this problem, is to take the short term hassle of ensuring youngsters lose the right to using devices in the small hours of the morning because they can’t cope with normal daylight life otherwise. By doing so, the longer term bonus is less tired, less argumentative, less in-trouble children. Schools will gladly support parents in this strategy by reinforcing the sense in the parents decision and linking it to the health education part of the solution. As a parent of teenagers, I know this is easier said than done… it is still the only solution.

So, back to my week. Following the daily welcome to the school and then along to watch the Diarmid assembly, with its focus on Anti-bullying week, I met with Fiona and Jo, two producers from the BBC. I have been in discussion with the BBC for the last month or so over a proposal for them to run a year long documentary on Oban High School. The benefits of taking part in such a documentary is that it would showcase all the talent we have in our school and perhaps send out a beacon to teachers across the country that Oban High School is a great place to work and that Oban and Argyll is a wonderful place to live; especially to raise a family. Such a documentary may even lead to more families looking to relocate to our wonderful part of the country. The downside to taking part and the concern raised by most, is that the documentary may hone in on isolated incidents of a dramatic nature and portray them as being the norm, thereby mis-representing the school community. Educating Essex with all it showed about urban school life has certainly sent shivers down the spine of any school approached with such an offer.

One of my staff, bemused with the possibility asked the other day: “Why do they want to film us?” Those gathered around looked incredulous as if to say “Seriously!”

Oban High School is full of talented children and staff with lots to be proud of. Our academic success at levels ranging from SCQF Level 1 through the large number of International Baccalaureates across 95 different academic and vocational options is testament to our commitment to get the best possible qualifications for all: as is the provision of one of the largest support departments in the country and one of the few schools to offer full time pastoral support to ensure we nurture and develop our youngsters social, emotional and vocations skills and talents. More than a few schools have a specialist school within a school. We have three: School of Traditional Music; School of Dance, linked to an Internationally acclaimed dance school, Ballet West; and a School of Rugby, sponsored by the SRU itself.

Our partnership working with other agencies is first class and boasts a level of commitment by our local partners not seen in significant number in other Scottish schools. We have an active and committed Parent Council; supportive local Councillors; Argyll College, Skills Development Scotland, local Health Workers, and local Police Community Engagement liaison are in the school every day; and local businesses and local organisations like Community Learning, Bid4Oban, H20, the Rotary Club, Chaplaincy Team, Youth Cafe, Atlantis etc involved weekly or at least monthly.

The number of pupils leaving our school going on to a Positive Destination (work, university, college etc.) is higher than all comparative figures and our trophy cabinet boasts huge sporting, music and civic successes achieved by both pupils and staff – nationally and internationally. Meanwhile hundreds of certificates drop into the mailboxes of pupils and parents each term recognising a huge range of achievement across many areas of interest. Such recognition leads to a generally positive ethos across the whole community.

Finally, our new school is one of the most modern schools in the country and set in one of the most beautiful parts of the world.

“Why wouldn’t the BBC want to film here?” was the answer.

Following my session with the BBC I had to travel to the Council HQ in Kilmory Castle, Lochgilphead to meet with the Director of Community Services, which includes Education, Douglas Hendry, for an update meeting on my school and over the Education Budget, as I Chair the Education Budget Group.

Then it was back to Oban to attend the second of our Outreach sessions at the Soroba Community Centre and to make sure Debbie was well supported in case of huge numbers. Debbie was managing just fine on her own as no one managed along that evening, so I got the chance to blether about … strategies to increase uptake.

Wednesday began with a Board of Studies meeting. Our Board of Studies is the title attached to a meeting of all PTs and DHTs. The meeting focused on issues raising attainment, led by Aileen Jackson. However, I also led a separate section on the subject of consistency. I reinforced a message to all managers to be passed to all staff, that we expect all our pupils; and all our staff to follow School rules. Pupils are expected to attend school, on time, with kit, in uniform and to show respect or themselves and others: staff are expected to welcome pupils to their class, start the lesson promptly, take accurate registers, deliver engaging, differentiated, relevant lessons to all, whilst managing behaviour, and to dismiss their class calmly ready for their next lesson.

Next up was a finance meeting to go through all the school accounts. This happens each month and every year. The greater difficulty for the last couple of years relates to the extraordinary spending required because we are building a brand new school. I am pleased to say, we’re not skint yet and we have everything we need at the moment.

The rest of Wednesday and indeed most of Thursday was spent either teaching my Advanced Higher History class, meeting DHTs and PTs with regard to progress with their remits or having a look into classes, making sure all is well.

The week finished on a high but with a tinge of sadness. Most of the morning was spent preparing for Children in Need in the afternoon, although I also met with Margaret and Colin from Skills Development Scotland to discuss Foundation Apprenticeships. This is an area that we are keen to explore further with an aim to deliver Apprenticeships in Business, Engineering and Childcare, with the support of local businesses, Argyll College and Argyll and Bute Council.

The sad part of the day came in three parts. An emotional farewell Ossian Assembly to Thomas McCulloch, PT Guidance / PE Teacher as he moves to Ayrshire to take up a new post as Head of PE; then there was the videos and speeches at the staff coffee morning; and finally when I shook his hand for the last time at the end of the day. Thomas is always positive; always eager to help; never has a harsh word for or about anyone; and is simply one of the nicest people I have ever met. I wish him and his family, Melody and Lucy all the very best.

The week culminated in a fantastic Children in Need event when I saw our whole community come together in the afternoon to take part in a variety of staged events in our Atrium; more active events across our PE facilities but also more sedentary opportunities in a variety of classrooms. The fashion show was, well… not very fashionable; the leg waxing looked painful and I disappeared sharply when eyes were on my legs a bit too long; the roller disco looked dangerous; the dance classes looked fun; the cake events looked tasty… the list goes on. It was great fun, everybody enjoyed themselves and more to the point we raised money for charity.

Well done to all the staff and senior pupils who put so much time and effort into ensuring it was packed with events, was lots of fun and very worthwhile.

A great way to end another busy week.

p.s I made a wee video showing much of the afternoon’s activities which you can watch on Facebook.

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Lessons for life

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

This verse from the poem “For the fallen” was published in The Times on 21st September 1914 by Robert Laurence Binyon. It is a verse I know off by heart because it is the verse that signals to the Bugler that he (or she) must play the Last Post: a military call that signals the going down of the sun; the end of the day; the end of life. It is a sad, haunting tune that is forever synonymous with war… but also of remembrance.

Oban High School, thanks in particular to Kirsteen Binnie and Christine Rae, have for many years organised a school trip to the WW1 Battlefields of Belgium and France, using a company called Mercat Tours. As the Head of History in Balwearie, Kirkcaldy many years ago, I too used this same company, a company run by a former colleague of mine, Des Brogan. Des was an excellent Head of History, tour guide and now international tour operator. His tours are successful because from the moment he meets a school group, he immediately forms a Pals Battalion. With the teachers as the officers and the pupils as new recruits he recreates an experience of the Battalion travelling down in the bus to Salisbury Plains for their training; across the sea to Flanders; and they tour around the villages and trenches their ancestors once fought and died for.

It is an emotional experience for all who attend, both young and old. No matter how many times one goes on the excursion and experiences the impact of standing in the trenches; seeing the craters; the still live shells that re-emerge in the fields each year; the monuments to the fallen; the graveyards, with their thousands of identical white military gravestones; and most importantly of all, the stories of real men who died in conditions we can never truly comprehend… one cannot help but cry.

The war that our pupils learn so much about in History ended 100 years ago (Sunday, 11th November 1918 at 11 a.m). The history lessons for all our pupils and the added experience of many who attend this tour engender a great deal of interest in this significant event and again thanks to the efforts of Kirsteen and Christine we are able to further our youngsters interest and afford them the opportunity to pay their respects through running Remembrance services at each assembly. Our local Chaplains help support the Clan Leaders and pupils who have been on the Battlefields experience to tell the story of the futility of war and of the sacrifice made by all those who lost their lives, no matter what side they fought on. These assemblies always culminate with a special assembly either on the 11th November itself or the closest school day preceding it.

This year, Remembrance Day fell on Friday the 9th. It was the first opportunity to pay our respects in our new school and the effort made by many across our school community to mark this 100th anniversary of the end of the war was outstanding. Our My Time classes made over 1000 Poppies, which were stitched on to a lace sheet by members of staff (Morag, Christine, Elsa, Hannah and more no doubt, such was the task). It was draped over our freshly erected war memorial; a memorial first placed in the original school in 1921: the effect was stunning.

Special recognition must be made to The Reverend Jim Beaton, who led the service alongside Kirsteen. Our School Captains, Clan Leaders and former attendees of the Battlefields experience delivered moving examples of both their experiences at the battlefields and on what the purpose of remembrance was all about. A reminder that even 100 years later, we have much to learn of the sacrifice of others.

Many others came together to make sure the service was one to remember. Pupils played the pipes, the bugle; represented their uniformed services (Air and Army cadets and the Boys Brigade); technicians, janitors, teachers and support staff ensured the visual displays contributed to the drama: a drama important to help impact on the experience, impact on reinforcing to all the need to remember lessons learned, lives lost… lives saved.

It is important to remember that the Remembrance service should also be a celebration. A celebration that peace prevailed, that men lived, that society continued and improved… and that although we endured a second war… peace again prevailed. It is for that reason that in every Remembrance service, after the two minute silence is held to honour those who lost their lives, that the bugle call Reveille is sounded. It is a call that awakens the troops each morning, a call that sounds a new day, new challenges, new opportunities… a new life.

I have been playing Last Post and Reveille each year since I was 12. I was taught to play by one of the finest men I know, Alastair Knowles from Musselburgh – when I was a boy in the Boy’s Brigade. The lessons I learned in the B.B. about friendship, respect, hard work; and how we should treat each other with compassion guide me in life to this day. These values are inherent within the vision of Oban High School.

To repay this debt, I still return to my hometown of Musselburgh every year and play at three different services, Northesk, Inveresk and Musselburgh each Remembrance Sunday.

There are not many Buglers around these day, so each year for the last 10 years I have taught the Bugle to pupils. This year, and last, I have had the pleasure of teaching Amber McWilliams. Amber is a great pupil. She is a young girl who accepted the role without question and although having never played the Bugle before took on the challenge and clearly practiced for hours and hours, so that when she played today, she played with clarity and a tone that did great credit to her role. I cannot praise her highly enough. I’m very proud of her.

The Remembrance Sunday service in Oban is also a key event in our calendar and I ask my senior pupils to represent me. Each year our senior pupil leadership team members attend and our Head Boy and Girl lay the wreath to pay our respects.

Normally my blog contains a whole selection of what I have been doing during the week to highlight the role of a Heidie and give a flavour of what has been going on in Oban High School. I would ask that you have a wee look at Facebook and see the posts made by others and the video I made when I toured the school at the beginning of the week.

Instead I will end my short blog with Rudyard Kipling’s guide to life after Reveille:

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,

And stoop and build ‘em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch;

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run—

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

BBC news: International interest in OHS

“What’s this university town stuff all about?” Was one of the first questions I had to deal with at about half seven last Monday morning. Whilst walking my wee Westies each morning I inevitably meet many people, either on their way to work or out walking their dogs. If it’s raining there’s not much chat but when pleasant enough there’s often the chance for a blether. The subject material can be totally random.

So, the answer to the question is that there are a group of interested organisations that wish to promote Oban as a centre of educational excellence; one which promotes and develops higher educational development – that is everything above level 7 on the SCQF framework (basically, everything between Advanced Highers to Doctorates and everything in between, HNCs, degrees etc). These organisations have formed a steering committee comprising of senior leaders from Argyll and Bute Council; University of Highlands and Islands; Argyll College; Scottish Marine Association for Marine Science; Ballet West; Highlands and Islands Enterprise; Bid4Oban; Imani Development; and of course Oban High School. I sit on the Steering Committee.

The key aims of the project are to give our pupils and people (young and old) more choice about their futures, with Oban as just an attractive an option as other towns and cities with higher education facilities. In short, if they want a degree but don’t want to go to Edinburgh or Glasgow, they should be able to get whatever the need here in Oban. We also want to attract new students to come to Oban, gradually increasing the demand for local services and contributing to the town’s economy. We also need new students to come here to make the whole programme more viable, thus helping ensure we have degree courses for those who wish to stay and making it more likely more folk will come and live and work in our beautiful part of the world.

Back in school and the day began well with an excellent Diarmid assembly where the Clan Leaders and Prefects celebrated the advent of Halloween with sweets for everyone and group activities instead of the usual rows of pupils focused on the lectern.

I had to miss most of this however, as each morning I continue to teach, and practice, the bugle as we prepare for our Remembrance service. We’re getting better. I also took the opportunity to discuss arrangements for this special 100th anniversary service with Christine Rae; and we discussed creating an avenue of poppies towards the memorial. The creation of this has now become a My Time challenge.

Thereafter I met with Lucinda Gray from Highlands and Island Enterprise to discuss the remit and job description necessary for the position of Chair of the Oban: a University Town committee as the previous Chair, Professor Donald Maclean (Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow) has stepped down. A pity. Donald was a great Chair and a lovely individual to work alongside.

Then it was into a Senior Leadership Team meeting to discuss the forthcoming week’s activities: BBC and Norway visit; Parents Evening; tracking and monitoring of pupils attainment, attendance, lates, behaviour etc.

After supervising break I took part in a discussion led by the HMI on the Empowering Schools Consultation and the forthcoming national changes to leadership in Scottish schools arising from the Scottish Governments Draft Bill. The HMI interviewed members of the Council’s Joint Services Committee seeking their views on the benefits or otherwise of such changes. I represent all the Secondary Heads on this group. The main focus of the changes centre around giving Head Teachers and their communities more freedom to take forward their schools. This debate has mainly arisen because of issues in the central belt where Local Authorities are being criticised for being too controlling; limiting budgets and deciding on staffing and curricular structures against national guidance. The Bill if passed into law will ensure these decisions revert back to Head Teachers. My comments were very positive and noted that Argyll and Bute Council already provides a great deal of autonomy for Head Teachers and that we already have few restrictions on our budget, and the ones we do are sensible. I also noted that Head Teachers are free to appoint the best staff they can to their schools and following consultation with their communities put together curriculums that they think best within national guidelines. In short, the new Head Teachers Charter is already in operation in Argyll and Bute.

In the evening I welcomed Wenche Kavli, the Head Teacher of Skedsmo videregående skole and Olav Wennemo, Head Teacher of Bjørkelangen videregående skole to Oban and together with my Deputes we shared our experiences of life in our schools. It’s great, not only to be able to learn of new cultures, but also to be able to steal other ideas for adoption in our schools. Good schools always visit each other to share ideas but there are so many similarities across the Scottish context, inevitably there will be limits to what can be learned. Looking further afield internationally allows for even more knowledge to be gained. However, it is remarkable just how similar schools and the teenagers within are the same in both Norway and Scotland.

This visit was part of an international professional exchange programme. Following a request by Gillian Hamilton (Strategic Director of Education Scotland, responsible for the Scottish College of Educational Leadership), Pauline Walker (HT, The Royal High School, Edinburgh), Andy Smith (HT, Larkhall Academy) and myself visited Norway in February and reported back on the excellent practice delivered within three schools (Mailand videregående skole, Bjørkelangen videregående skole and Frogn videregående skole). This time around our Norwegian colleagues were looking to report back on us. Their focus in Oban was on how we promote pupil leadership across the school as part of our “Developing leadership at all levels” policy.

The following day was fantastic! To begin our guests were welcomed by our Head Boy, Angus and Head Girl, Katie. They were piped into the school and proceeded to the Atrium where they caught their first glimpse of pupil leadership as Fingal Clan Leaders, Miko and Anna-May were delivering an assembly on self belief and positive mindset.

Angus, Katie and I then toured our guests around the school stopping off to witness more pupil leadership activities. Sports Coaching in the School of Dance and out on the pitch during a School of Rugby session. Wenche and Olav were able to take the time to ask all our pupils and staff questions to help them understand the aims of the leadership and specialist schools programmes. These were valuable discussions as it ensured our guests became aware that it is the transferable skills that are far more important to all our children’s educational development rather than the notion that we are only interested in producing national rugby players or professional dancers for example.

It was a lovely day to be outside and perfect weather for the BBC to be filming the visit.

Back indoors and it was time for a few introductions. The Policy Lead for Education, Councillor Yvonne McNeilly and Douglas Hendry, Director of Community Services, along with Councillor Kieron Green, Depute Policy Lead, had come along to meet our guests and to take the opportunity to learn more about education in Norway. I was also pleased that they were able to stay for much of the morning and take in a few of the pupil presentations too. Unsurprisingly though as I have found Yvonne and Douglas to be really enthusiastic about our curriculum and how our kids are doing.

The presentations began with four pupils (Kirsty, Caitlin, Maria and Daryl) giving very different examples of pupil leadership in action. Our school currently has about 70 pupils embarking on the SQA’s Leadership course. This course teaches pupils all about what leadership is, about different styles of leadership and about how these can be taken forward. It also requires pupils to put into practice what they are learning.

The second session was delivered by the Senior Pupil Leadership Team, who described how they became leaders through and application and interview process, the roles they perform for the school (leading the clans; delivering assemblies; organising prefects and School Council; representing the School etc) and the leadership training, experiences and qualifications available to them.

Next up we’re members of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards programme who described how the organisation worked, how it worked in School and what each pupil achieved in terms of knowledge and skills from each level of the programme, Bronze, Silver and Gold.

Following individual interviews for the BBC and a wee bit of lunch we were all off to Edinburgh to take part in a second day of professional learning at The Royal High School led by a brilliant Head Teacher, Pauline Walker. The focus of this visit was on their digital strategy: how they use technology to improve the pupil learning experience. Not only were we impressed with their developments in digital learning, I got even more out of the visit as I was able to ask lots of questions about how Pauline ran her school in more general terms.

The day started with a tour of the school. As an Historian I was very impressed to learn of the history of a School dating back to 1128. Their assembly hall in particular, with its marble doorway surrounded by their war memorial; the stain glass windows reflecting the history, achievements and successes; the painting sculptures and Dux boards all reeked centuries old history. Very impressive visually but it was the stories, too numerous to mention here, that enthralled me the most.

Most of the day we spent in classes watching staff using technology to enthuse their youngsters, to support their learning and to develop both their subject knowledge and IT technical abilities. There were lots for us to see. I shall use my favourite to exemplify the day. We visited a Classics class where the teacher had been teaching the Odyssey, read by pupils on their iPads (all 1200 pupil have an iPad). To illustrate what they had learned, to show understanding and to consolidate their learning the pupils were given a task to produce a storyboard of 8 pictures. They were able to download any (free) App they wished onto their iPad to allow them to produce a piece of work that achieved this aim. They worked in pairs. One pair used plasticine to make figures and used a stop motion App on their iPads to tell the story; others used iMovies; others used artwork apps to create single pictures combined in a PowerPoint. It was personalised learning at its best. A brilliant lesson.

Thursday saw me back in Oban and back in front of my own Higher class. Although I too have had my senior classes use iMovies to consolidate their learning, I was aware I could achieve far more myself now. I am also aware of how much more all the staff in OHS can achieve. Of course this takes time and training and a great deal of finance. To purchase 1000 iPads for everyone would cost around a quarter of a million pounds. Having seen what can be achieved, very worthwhile I think. Meanwhile my Depute, Jemma in partnership with PT of Business, Design and Technologies, Damian Heaney and their team of digital leaders (Ronnie, David and Colin) will support our staff use our existing IT to support youngsters learning through an increased use of Google Classroom. They are also involved in supporting the creation of an Argyll and Bute Council Virtual School, which will support pupils in schools across the Authority.

As well as teaching my own class, checking in with a number of staff and looking into a few classes, I once again had to attend yet another meeting. This time I met with Stephen Long from the Scottish Future’s Trust (the Government Department that funded most of the new school build). Stephen is responsible for the Education section of SFT and he was keen to learn of my view around what could be improved when further new schools are developed. As we had a very positive experience, there was little to give further advice on beyond having extra contingency funds for works and ideas that only became apparent when pupils and staff are actually in using the building. Drawings and plans may look good at the inception stage but years later when the brinks, mortar, paint, furniture and especially people are all included the full picture can look quite different.

Friday closed with more bugle practice, another assembly, another Advanced Higher class – all before 10 am – and then a tour for and interview by Zoe Bing from the Good School’s Guide. Zoe seemed very excited by our new school and all that we manage to provide for our youngsters and to hear of all of their successes. Following more investigation and chats with parents we will soon see her evaluation, one that I am sure will encourage more families to come to Oban, Lorn and the Isles and live and work in our great wee part of the world.

Countdown to Christmas 

Since my last blog we have squeezed in a two week holiday and waved goodbye to Summer. The town also saw the re-emergence of the Loch Avullin, formerly known as the Tesco car park and welcomed a variety of storms to the area, the names of which I can’t recall. Bessy was one I think.

Sadly I think the stormy weather played a significant role in the poor uptake of our new community initiative: the holiday Breakfast Club. Members of staff gave up their time to come along to school each morning and continue to run the breakfast club providing tea, toast, cereal etc. and to be on hand to help with any homework and offer iPads etc. to anyone who perhaps doesn’t have access to IT at home. We also hoped that it would help to get kids out and about and meet their pals. A few hardy souls braved the weather but met more ducks than other kids. A huge thank you is due to Claire Brady for running the show and to our staff Kevin, Jemma, Thomas and Damian for giving up their holidays. A special thank you is due to Maureen Evans from Community Learning who was in every day lending a hand.

Now we are all back at school the weather has improved… and I’m glad to say, so has the breakfast club every morning. We now have around 50 regular pupils each day although I noticed that exceeding in number a couple of times this week. I’m incredibly grateful for the financial support we get from D&K Lafferty to support this.

On the first day back after a holiday I take the opportunity to welcome back as many staff back to school as I can squeeze in and ask how their holidays went. It is amazing how many made it to sunny climes all over the world. However we need to be mindful of all the staff that never made it out the front door. Whilst all the pupils and majority of the staff are on holiday our school is still open to the public and we still have ongoing non-teaching work today; particularly this year as we have not yet finished building the new school.

Most days I was in school working with Lynne, our Head Janitor with Morrison Construction and FES, the maintenance company, to make sure the building work progressed and the snagging was completed. Additionally, we had our School Technicians, David, David, Alan and Leigh working on IT, Science and Tech prep work and Julie and Christine from the Office were busy setting up for the new term.

Lots of work was achieved throughout the holiday but probably most notable was the establishment of the War Memorial. We have been keeping this valuable artefact securely wrapped up until the special glass arrived to protect it. It has a very commanding presence as one enters the front door now and I am pleased that it is in place, ready for our annual Remembrance Service; especially given this is the 100th Anniversary service celebrating the end of the Great War.

On Monday we were back up running as if we hadn’t been away, assemblies back on track, lessons in full swing; the only change was the shell shocked expressions on everyone’s faces, especially my Advanced Higher class as we were straight into essay work. I’m sure all the pupils and teachers in every class around the school were similarly suffering.

Much of Monday was spent with my Deputes going over everything we need to take forward during this busy term. All our parents evenings are designed to be held before Christmas so that we have enough time to share progress with parents and have time to take forward strategies for improvement. In turn, to aid these discussions we need to ensure we give regular tracking reports to parents. This is a far better system than we used to have whereby we just gave summative reports and held end of term meetings about how it all went, with no opportunity to intervene together mid way through the courses.

To help improve our developments in tracking, monitoring and reporting I recently appointed Aileen Jackson (formerly PT English) to the position of PT Raising Attainment, with the remit of ensuring that we accurately and more regularly track pupil performance in each subject, alongside their tracking their attendance. If pupils don’t come to school, they are not going to learn. I should take the opportunity to congratulate Louise McKechnie and Debbie Gillies, both of whom were appointed following interviews led by Aileen. They will both help lead the raising attainment developments as home link officers. Louise will mainly be based in school though go out to support families at home; whilst Debbie will mainly work from our new Outreach Centres, as our new Outreach initiative commences in a couple of week.

The idea behind this is to have Debbie, supported by Aileen and other staff as required, offering homework and study support in four different venues around the town. I am aware that not all parents feel comfortable coming into our very large school and that perhaps smaller venues, closer to their homes would suit more families at night. We will offer this support in Argyll College (Monday), the Soroba Community Centre (Tuesday), Park Primary (Wednesday) and the Rockfield Centre (Thursday) between 6 and 7.30 p.m.

Following this discussion on tracking and monitoring we also began to plan to receive a delegation of three Head Teachers from Norway who are coming to visit us next week as part of a professional exchange programme set up by the Scottish College of Educational Leadership. The focus of this particular visit is for us to show how we have taken forward our “Developing Leadership for All” programme to include pupil leadership. Consequently, they will meet pupils involved in our Senior Pupil Leadership Team (SPLT); pupils undertaking the SQA Leadership Course; they will watch pupils Coaching other pupils as part of our School of Dance and School of Rugby provision; and watch our Clan Leaders deliver an assembly, as they do each day, to the hundreds of pupils (and teachers) in their Clan. Indeed our SPLT are away planning other aspects to the visit as I write this no doubt. Given they are all going to be filmed by the BBC I imagine they will be panicking a bit. Working under pressure is a valuable leadership experience.

Of course discussing whole school policy, community engagement strategy and international sharing good practice may seem obvious things for a strategic senior management team to discuss but to be honest most Heidies and their Deputes across the country discuss more mundane (but just as important) issues each day; for example, pupil behaviour.

When we use the word pupil, I think most people subconsciously have an image of a well presented youngster in a school uniform. When we use the word teenager, subconsciously we imagine a youngster in jeans and a tee shirt hopefully smiling away and when we use the word youth, many will often have a less than sympathetic image in their heads. I believe this is because of the way in which such language is used in the media. So when a member of the public speaks to us about youngsters we can often tell straight away if this is likely to be the start of a commendation or a condemnation discussion based on which term they use to describe our young people.

I am pleased to report we get dozens of commendation reports over the course of the year but disappointed we also have to face the flip side discussions too. Teenagers are young adults who are learning. They are learning about subject matter in school, like History or Geography; essential skills in literacy and numeracy; lifelong skills in Home Economics or in Drama and of the importance of health and well being in PE and in Personal and Social Education classes. We also have to teach our teenagers about timekeeping, manners and politeness, respect for oneself, for others and for others property. Although, to be honest these last examples also fall to not only the school, and to the parents (whom most blame) but to our community as a whole. Over the years I have received dozens of complaints about the behaviour of “my” pupils or of “your” pupils. Complaints mainly about language used in the street or about the litter they leave scattered around the town.

My response is always the same. It is sometimes understood but often seen as a deflection of responsibility. Regardless, my view is that teachers teach (along the broad lines noted above); the Police police; Social Work, Health, Community Councils, local businesses and especially parents also all have a role to play in the make up of society and carry out their obvious functions. Teenagers are not the sole responsibility of a school. The school is but one partner in ensuring our society runs smoothly and we are very happy to work with others in ensuring that our community is a harmonious one. Having said that there are limits to what can be achieved.

Our teachers and support staff are employed to ensure the education and health and well being of our youngsters in our school, or when out of school under our supervision. They are not employed to supervise the activities of our children across the town whilst not in school. I have received complaints about “our” pupils littering and causing a disturbance on a Sunday morning, Friday evenings and of course at lunchtimes when they leave our supervision and are “down the street”.

I recently discussed anti-social behaviour out-with the school with the Police and as we reflected on the roles each play (teachers teach, with help from the Police: the Police police, with help from teachers) I learned that it is imperative that when any member of the public were to see a crime or anti-social behaviour being carried out by anyone, including pupils away from the supervision of their teachers, then they should call 101 and report the incident immediately so as to allow a patrol car to get to the incident quickly, hopefully catching the culprits in the act and leading to a more secure and effective outcome. In the case of witnessing children engaged in such activities, by waiting to get home, calling the school office, who has to then call a DHT, who then themselves has to call the Police because the incident is out of school, means that the Police have little chance of addressing the issue of members of our community engaging in activities which harm our community.

So, for the locals reading this. Please call 101 if you see a crime or anti-social activity being carried out immediately. Help the Police do their job quickly. The School will still be involved in supporting the Police and especially with follow up work around getting the youngsters to realise the error of their ways. The education part.

To put this problem into perspective however, I would remind our community that we have hundreds of youngsters making their way around the community morning, Noon and night, every day of the week and that there are actually very few instances of this nature. I would also remind everyone that groups of children gathering together and chatting away, chasing each other and larking about is normal behaviour and should be encouraged. Children need to learn to play.

As my blog gets longer, I’ll perhaps just give a wee list of the other issues we discussed on this first Monday back after the holiday to give a flavour of what we do: supervision duties for staff; school nurse and SDS support; progress with Departmental Improvement Plans; class Observations and their impact on the pupils learning experience; progress with our Digital Strategy; plans for the November in service staff training; preparing for a SQA results presentation to Elected Members; preparations for Children in Need day; prep for Remembrance; progress with establishing this year’s Junior Pupil Leadership Team; discussing the development of our Chaplaincy Team.

Tuesday saw me visit Council Head Quarters to discuss the work of the Education Budget Steering Group with the Council’s Transformation Board. However before that successful meeting I also had the chance to discuss and take forward matters helpful in taking forward the school with colleagues in our HR, Legal, Special Projects, Transport and Architects departments. It was a very busy but productive day.

On returning to school on Tuesday evening I was able to meet with my new Depute, Jemma Playfair, who joined us in the last week of last term. She has been given the role of leading Clan Ossian as well as developing our digital strategy: basically, looking how we can further use technology to help pupil learn more effectively both in and out of school. Currently we are progressing with ensuring that all our staff are trained to use Google Classroom. This is an app that allows staff to put whole lessons on line, easily accessible to pupils and their parents. The benefits of this use of IT is that pupils attending classes have a consistent reminder of the key aspects of that day’s lessons, often with the videos taken or used that day; and for those absent because of illness, they can keep follow the lesson programme more fluidly and in a way still participate with the activities.

This work will support the Council wide development of creating a Virtual School whereby all high schools take forward one or two subjects that can be delivered on-line. This will allow pupils in a school that does not deliver a particular subject to be able to access it on line via another school – with tutorial support from that satellite school.

Wednesday was a day for analysing our recent examination results using the Scottish Government’s “Insight” tool. Although we get a rough idea how our pupils got on with many of their exams in August, it is not until this online resource goes live in September that we can really start to breakdown our results in full. It is a very useful resource. There are hundreds of different statistics to analyse but there are four main basic figures that are published widely. Literacy and Numeracy; attainment for all: attainment versus deprivation; and most importantly Positive Destination results all form the Insight Dashboard. These are published via Parentzone for those interested; though they are a year in arrears because all the results are not fully recorded until February.

Wednesday also saw me meet with the Head of the Canteen, Donna, to discuss the changes we made to the way in which we set out the canteen (we added another 56 seats) and how sales are going (up around 35% compared with last year). I then met the Area Supervisor for Cleaning to discuss the problems with cleaning the school. A very difficult task given the shortage of cleaners. We also need a new cleaning supervisor. I put an advert on Facebook and asked people to share. It looks like it may prove a popular job and hopefully we will appoint soon.

Thursday was a day for continuing to teach my Advanced Higher class the joys of the Golden Age of Germany 1924-29 and all about Gustav Stresseman. However, I also began to teach my young protege Amber the Bugle again. We both need a lot of practice to get ready for the Remembrance Service in a couple of weeks.

Friday’s highlights were meeting Brendan O’Hara in the morning. Brendan kindly volunteered to come in to speak to our Modern Studies classes about the work of an MP and of how Westminister operates. He also took the opportunity to get a wee tour of the school, led by our School Captains and some Clan Leaders. Colin Carswell, the Modern Studies teacher responsible for these lessons is still looking for Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat volunteers to add some political balance to the discussions.

I met more politicians in the afternoon. This time it was the turn of our local Councillors to come along to the school. I had invited members of the Area Committee along to the School to give them an update on our exam success and offer them the chance to ask any questions they wished about any aspect of the school. Councillors Elaine Robertson, Roddy McCuish and Julie MacKenzie kindly came along and showed great interest in the work we do and offered a great deal of support. I had met Jim Lynch during the holiday and am due to meet Kieron Green next week so it is clear our Elected Members are all keen to support the school. Having the support of local Councillors is very useful. The more information we share with them, the easier it is for them to help with issues that arise across the area; or to share our achievements more widely.

An example of working in harmony coincidentally occurred on Friday. Councillor Lynch noted that the local play park had been damaged by youngsters during the holiday and whilst as already noted we are not solely responsible for our youngsters when they are not in our care I still sent staff round to fix it. An example of us all playing our part in the community and helping one another: demonstrating to our youngsters the importance of good citizenship.

As well as these meetings, I squeezed in interviews for the post of Teacher of Technology and I am happy to have appointed someone to the post given it took six adverts to get to this opportunity. Other vacancies are still in the national press and close over the coming weeks: Cleaning supervisor, DHT, two Guidance, Maths, Socials, about we are about to interview for History / Modern Studies.

Obviously I have missed out all the emails, discussions with teachers, pupils and parents etc. However hopefully this has given you a flavour of how the local Headmaster spends his time.

Making new friends

My week began by welcoming Nina Raita and Eirunn Knusden from Mailand videregående skole to Oban High School. Nina and Eirunn were representing their school as part of a professional exchange initiative we began almost a year ago. The principal aim of the work we are collaborating on focuses on sharing good practice in both strategic development and learning and teaching pedagogy across post 16 education.

During their visit they had discussions with senior management, visited a range of classes across a broad range of academic and vocational subjects and were particularly interested in our Leadership, Health and Well-being and Equality and Diversity courses introduced to S5 and 6 this year to ensure our youngsters have a well rounded portfolio of qualifications and experiences prior to leaving school and entering the work place.

Our guests also had the opportunity to visit a few of our partners in providing this breadth of vocational opportunity including SAMS and Dunollie Castle, both of whom they spoke highly of because of what they could offer our youngsters.

* Nina and Eirunn pictured here with Aisling and Jane Issacson from Dunollie House (I thoroughly recommend everyone visits the House / Castle).

We have five head Teachers from three different Norwegian high schools and two Scottish high schools visiting Oban High School to see the breadth and level of opportunity on offer to our youngsters at the end of October. This visit is part of the Scottish College of Educational Leadership / Education Scotland project which is also looking at what can be learned from each country, from a systems management perspective as well as from learning and teaching experiences.

Although all our visitors will hope to gleam something new from OHS, I believe all the Head Teachers involved in the SCEL Excellence in Headship Scotland-Norway professional exchange are excellent school leaders with national reputations and we will benefit greatly from having them along sharing ideas and experiences and we will inevitably learn much that will further enhance our curriculum and pedagogy. Our guests will include Wenche Kavli (Skedsmo videregående skole); Olav Wennemo (Bjorkelangen videregående skole); Hege Britt Johnsen (Frogn videregående skole); Pauline Walker (The Royal High School, Edinburgh); and Andy Smith (Larkhall Academy).

When I first started teaching, Continuing Professional Development (CPD) focused almost exclusively on “bringing someone in”, paying a guest speaker about £1000 a day to speak to PowerPoints as they tried to share their experiences in an assembly full of teachers. Either that or we spent a fortune sending a few people on equally expensive courses. I am pleased to note that the profession has moved on considerably. We still send staff on courses but only if we do not have the expertise in house; and we still invite guests to our school, as mentioned above. However when we do have guests along the focus is on discussing our context in relation to their experiences rather than the “this is how to do it” model and both parties learn from the discussions.

Of course this model only works well if schools have capacity either in the school or across their local authority. Argyll and Bute has a lot of experience and talent and their Professional Learning opportunities are led by a very able Education Officer, Sandra Clarke. Indeed it was Sandra who convinced me to apply for SCELs Excellence in Headship programme and I am very glad I took her advice as the networking opportunities and access to more in-depth analysis across a whole raft of educational issues has ensured I am better prepared for the continuing challenges of Headship. She also ensures that we provide an excellent start for both our probationers and our newly qualified Head Teachers through very useful induction programmes; and of particular note is the Leadership programme offered to all levels of staff. As you know from previous blogs I hold the concept of developing leadership at all levels as a key to success and so appreciate and value this provision in particular. The support that the Authority gives to my school in this regard has helped many of my staff. Indeed three members of staff have gone on to be Head Teachers themselves and many more have secured management positions in other schools or for local authorities.

As much as I take great pleasure in mentoring my staff to the point where they can get promoted and go on to further their careers, it does provide me with some significant issues, especially given the numbers successfully getting promoted. The two key issues are that I then need to replace, then train new staff. The training is easy, getting the staff in the door in the first place is difficult.

Last session we struggled to get staff to come to Oban. This has been a problem for years, and not just for us but for almost all rural schools. In some subjects, like Maths, Technical, Science and Home Economics, even city schools have had difficulty in recent years. Having said that, following a very successful media campaign and receiving a great deal of support from my Parent Council and from the Local Authority we put out early adverts, with enhancement packages and advertised feverishly; I even travelled to Ireland to recruit from their teacher training colleges. By the last day of term in June, I had appointed 14 new staff and only had one outstanding vacancy… a maternity cover in Maths after 5 unsuccessful adverts.

On the first day of the new term I learned a new start would not be coming. On the third day of the new term another member of staff announced they had a new job. Since then four more staff have secured exciting new jobs, although granted one remains with us… Kirsteen Binnie will replace Lorna Stewart as PT Support. I may have to consider not training our staff so well, not letting them embark on leadership experiences, not attend any school or authority CPD and ban the Times Ed and My Job Scotland from the school so they can’t see any new jobs published. OK, so perhaps that’s a wee bit extreme. I wish every one of my staff all the very best in their new careers. They worked very hard and very successfully for OHS and I am sure they will continue to provide an excellent service in their new roles. Matt Walker; Louise Lawson; Thomas McCulloch; and Lorna Stewart you are all stars!

Now, everybody please make sure they keep an eye on Facebook and My Jobs Scotland and share every post publicising our vacancies. Thanks.

So back to Monday, after welcoming our Norwegian friends I watched the Diarmid assembly where Aisling Clark was encouraging all our pupils to take up the wide and varied offer of trips just announced: trips to the Battlefields of Belgium and France; to Laurinburg in North Carolina; the World Challenge trip to Morocco; football trip to Milan; and a trip to Rome that Aisling runs alongside Alex Craik. These are just the ones advertised this week. There are others.

Later in the week, I also managed to watch the Somerled Clan Leaders deliver an assembly on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Ossian Clan Leaders deliver on World Sign Language Day.

Following the assembly I had a meeting with the Canteen Manager, Donna, specifically to try and expand the catering provision into the evenings and weekends. I think there are great opportunities to look after our guests when they are in the school waiting for their youngsters to take part in dance and football for example. Why stand in the rain or in the corridors when we could provide refreshments in a more comfortable environment. The canteen girls make great food, especially the cakes, so I’m sure this will be a great success.

Then followed another meeting with the Office Manager, Julie, about improving the way in which we let pupils and parents know what is happening in the forthcoming week. We trialled a Weekly Sheet video last week, that seemed to get a lot of views, so we are looking to spruce that up a bit. Keep an eye on FB for more of these videos… indeed we have been using iMovie and the Clips Apps to produce lots of short videos to communicate much of what we do in school. If only all everyone in our community would keep checking into FB, either directly or via our website, they would have a greater understanding of what we value, see the successes of our youngsters and get up to the minute news reports about travel etc. If you are a local reading this, please share everything and tell all your pals to keep following us.

Monday continued with more meetings with the Head Janitor, Lynne and then with the Depute Head Teachers, Alex and Kevin… mainly about budget issues, staff cover and pupil behaviour. I have to say a huge thank you to my excellent Deputes. Kevin and Alex are working exceptionally hard just now as we are two Deputes down. Light is at the end of the tunnel for them however as my new Depute, Jemma Playfair joins us a week on Monday. I am also due to advertise for another Depute Head next week. If anyone wants to move to this great school, in such a beautiful part of the world, please call me.

Thereafter I met with Jayne Jones, the Commercial Manager for Argyll and Bute Council. I always have a lot of time for Jayne as she has some great ideas on how to provide new and exciting opportunities to make money for us… and of course if we are making money we don’t need to cut services so much. This win win approach appeals to me greatly.

Then I met with my Admin and Finance Assistant to discuss staffing issues and the annual Scottish Government return on how many staff and pupils we have in the school. The school roll for five of the last six years has been quite low because of an unusual dip in the area’s birth rates, however our projections show that from this year onward the primary intake continues to return to more traditional numbers and our roll has begun to climb again. More pupils mean more teachers… as long as we can recruit them of course. By 2023 we will be back to the 1150, or more, figure similar to when I arrived in 2008. I say “or more” because we continue to attract placing requests or families moving to the area not covered in the primary roll figures.

We have or have recently had pupils from Poland, Spain, South Africa, Germany and Italy joining us. We also have pupils who chosen to come in from other areas because of the choice of subjects we offer, for example, from Callander, Kinlochleven, Lochgilphead, Dunoon, Helensburgh, Tiree and Tobermory.

Monday ended with me having to nip down to the local train station to check in on all our pupils who use the school train service from Oban to Dalmally, stopping at Connel, Taynuilt and Loch Awe. It is so much more comfortable travelling by train over long journeys. When we first started the service I used to travel on the train a lot to see how it was working out. The mornings were particularly interesting as I watched kids having an extra nap, girls using the time to put on their make up and many doing last minute homework… not possible on the buses without tables.

Tuesday and Wednesday saw me Chairing the Education Budget Steering Group, taking into consideration many ideas staff had come up with to make efficiency savings. This group contains head teachers, education managers and trade union representatives and all are focused on making recommendations to the Council’s Transformation Board that ensure savings can be met without compromising on a quality service to our young people.

In between these meetings I had to nip back to School to attend the S4 Parents’ Evening, the first parents’ evening in our new school. I thought the evening went very well indeed. It was very busy, no doubt because it was in the new school and we were running tours, led by pupils. We also had pupils leading a stall with information for parents on the SCQF Framework and these Young Ambassadors did a grand job. As did the Parent Council volunteers who were making the teas and coffees for the busy staff and thirsty parents. Thanks to you all.

I returned to school on Thursday desperate to catch up with my Advanced Higher pupils whom I had missed for two days and who desperately need more exciting discussions on the Russian Revolution’s impact on right wing support for the left wing Weimar Government.

Other than more meetings and a tour around some classes Thursday morning was fairly uneventful. Thursday afternoon saw me at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) as part of the Oban: a University Town Steering Group meeting. This is another group where I find the commitment from such a wide range of partners all sharing a common positive goal for young people to be worthy of praise. There is a great deal of commitment from Argyll and Bute Council; Highlands and Islands Enterprise; the University of Highlands and Islands; Argyll College; Ballet West; SAMS; Bid4Oban; and of course OHS to ensure that we provide a wide range of higher education opportunities to all our current community members, young and old, as well as seeking to attract new people to the area.

On Thursday evening I attended a UHI presentation to local businesses, held at Argyll College, on what UHI had to offer. The choice was wide and varied. Although Argyll College hosted the event admirably, practically the only people in attendance were the guest speakers themselves. Indeed, I think Andy Spence from Bid4Oban and I were the only guests not either attached to UHI or a speaker. This is disappointing as each speaker did present some very interesting opportunities for local businesses and their staff.

Friday was a normal day back in school, teaching my class, watching other classes and doing general supervision around the school. I ignored all the accumulated emails from the days before so I could spend time chatting with staff and pupils. With little issues noted it was a contented day to end what was another busy week.

Top Ten

“What do kids want from a school?” This was a question posed to school pupils across the country in a recent study published in an article I read recently. Secondary pupils chose:

1. Range of extra-curricular activities (Superb wealth and breadth of opportunities)

2. Great and supportive teachers (Mostly)

3. Safe and supportive community (Most pupils report this to be the case)

4. Great facilities (Unquestionably)

5. Enjoyable, personal and practical lessons (On the whole)

6. Mutual respect between pupils and teachers (Work in progress)

7. Great pastoral care and extra support (Our pupils and parents report this to be the case)

8. Diversity, equality and inclusion of the pupil body (On track but with further improvement on the way)

9. Range of subjects (One of the most extensive in the country)

10. High aspirations and encouragement to get the best results. (It’s our vision for all)

* Comments in brackets my assessment of OHS)

As it is with so many articles and studies published, the job of the Heidie is to consider what is being reported and to determine what if anything can be learned from this new found knowledge to continually seek improvements for their schools. We also have to think about the motivation, bias and agenda of studies and articles and not all are as they seem.

In the case of this list, whilst I was surprised by the order of some points, I was not surprised at all by the content. I am not so sure that my pupils would have placed extra-curricular activities at the top or high expectations in tenth place. I must ask them. At the moment however, based on our pupil surveys and from the on-going one to one meetings pupils have with their Guidance staff or from discussions arising from focus groups we hold, I believe our pupils place good lessons and good relationships at the top of the list, with an emphasis on staff looking after pupils as well as teaching them “stuff”. It is for this reason that our school improvement plan this year has a very clear health and well being focus for in the class, as well as holistically across the school. In my opening welcome address to staff in August, followed up with management meetings with Principal Teachers and Depute Head Teachers, I have made it clear that we have gone through years of developing the content material and assessment instruments in subject areas (necessary with the introduction of the new national qualification) but that we now must focus on understanding more about the lives and consequently the mindsets, the home-life experiences, prior learning and interests of individuals, which can then be used to more tailor individualised learning. Whilst learning more about the youngsters in our care and having a greater appreciation of their backgrounds, skills and desires I believe it impacts on how teachers interact with our youngsters and can lead to a greater degree of mutual respect. If we achieve this goal we cross off seven of the ten items pupils placed in the top ten things pupils want from school. As we have definitely achieved the great facilities, the range of subjects and a breadth of extra-curricular subjects already, we’re on track but not quite there.

As we progress through our improvement plan in an effort to achieve our goals we must of course use self evaluation to test our success and use analytical tools at our disposal, not to beat ourselves up with if we don’t do so well at any given time or with any particular issue but to determine what we need to do next, what to fix, identify what needs to be introduced or even reintroduced. Our self evaluation centres on the concept of analysing statistical data, seeking peoples views and observing first hand what we hope to see in our lessons and in our relationships. The triangulation of this evidence ensures our Litmus test is accurate and ensures the follies of the human psyche are avoided.

Eh? The trouble with any evaluation is that both positive and negative results are found. In every case. Depending on an individual’s mindset then the subjective view and consequential reaction can be useful or indeed catastrophic to developing the next steps in a development. In simple terms, if ones glass is half full, then the next steps will likely lead to a positive change; if ones glass is half empty, then the next steps could dramatically veer away from a continuous natural development of an initiative and lead an improvement plan that slips, twists and turns like a baby deer on an ice pond.

How do we caution against such misjudgement of our evaluations. Be honest, realistic and pragmatic. If we observe a lesson that has not gone well. Pass on the advice to help the next lesson but appreciate that not every lesson can go well. Go back and check to ensure this is not a common occurrence. If we analyse a set of homework results, departmental results or whole school figures, use the information gathered and ask questions around what went well but if they didn’t, identify possible improvements whilst accepting statistics cannot go up and up and up every year, it’s not natural. Go back and check for trends.

And finally in the trio, remember that when seeking people’s views on anything, that humans are all different. Some are left wing, some politically right; some are moral, some are not; some are Religious, some Atheist; some believe the world is round and some believe it is flat. As everyone has a different view on every aspect of life then so some will have a different view on what we do. We may think we have done well (and other evidence will suggest or even prove it) but there will always be some people with a different view on what success is and therefore be critical of our achievements. These views should not be ignored but they should not be held above all the other evidence. Those who shout loudest should not win just because they shout the loudest (almost exclusively by those whose views did not win); but equally the majority view should not always steer the course. If a Head Teacher believes that something is in the best interests of a pupil or pupils based on their values, then that course should be steered. My values are based on the need to ensure that all our pupils have equal opportunities to all we provide; that we care for them (often with tough love); and that we ensure they will leave us with the necessary knowledge, skills and experiences necessary to make their way in life and work.

All schools and the HMIe should, and of course we do, use Education Scotland’s “How good is our school 4? ” to carry out their self-evaluation. More recently there has been a pupil focused version “How good is OUR school? We have begun to use this document in staff groups / discussions. I would encourage all educationalists to use it. There is already some schools slightly ahead of us in this regard and I am aware we can learn from The Royal High, led by an excellent Head Teacher, Pauline Walker, and we are sending staff and pupils there next week having been invited to a conference focusing on encouraging and supporting pupils to be more actively engaged.

So this week I started with a wee debate around this issue contained within an article in the Times Educational Supplement, merely to demonstrate another aspect of what all educational leaders do: keep up to date with current research and debates and contribute. It’s how we learn. Next up is what I’ve been up to this week. I’ll keep it reasonably brief.

The highlight of last Monday came in the evening when the Parent Council gathered in the Conference Room for the first meeting of the new session. Presentations of the success of recent Parent Council activities, for example fund raising for the school or supporting the school’s focus groups, appointment of Deputes and recommendations to the School Improvement Plan were all acknowledged. Indeed, the most up-to-date Plan was shared by Kevin Champion, alongside presentations on our Pupil Equity Fund plan to help close the poverty related attainment gap by Aileen Jackson (PT, Raising Attainment) and a presentation by Alex Craik on our initial SQA successes and improvement agenda.

There was also an item on how to raise the profile of the Parent Council. I have to note a huge thank you to all those who attend and contribute to the work of the Parent Council. They are small in number but they do demonstrate a commitment that does help make a difference. Why are they small in number? It is my understanding from discussions with Heidies the length and breadth of the country that if you are in trouble, parents are knocking down the doors to attend, otherwise people with very busy lives are content to let others with a keen interest in such work carry on. Similar to the above, this is an entirely natural occurrence and one which is replicated in any walk of life where a community seeks membership of working committees. We still strive to get more in the door however.

On Tuesday I chaired the Education Budget Group in the morning before returning to school in the afternoon to host the weekly meeting of staff. The role of the Budget Group is to suggest ways in which we can run Education more efficiently thereby saving money without impacting on a quality service. This has been an annual task for all Councils, especially since the economic downturn in 2008. Argyll and Bute Council like every other Council has been forced to cut its budget over the years and we have seen some impact on this in the school’s. However, like my analogy above, if one’s glass is half full we will note that our breadth of curriculum has expanded, our recent results have shown some of the highest success stories since our new records commenced in 1991 and our Positive Destination figures are above all comparators, as do the Argyll and Bute figures. Sometimes a cut in services leads to a change in direction that has a positive impact, and sometimes at less cost. People fear and criticise change but it is not always bad. The world and life moves on. It is how we address the changes that demonstrates our ability to succeed in whatever we do… in our case supporting and educating our young people.

Wednesday began on a similar financial vein as I met with my Administration and Finance Assistant to discuss staffing and budgets. It was also a day for touring classes and checking in on some of my new teachers, making sure they were settling in and that they are being well looked after by their managers colleagues, and indeed pupils. I am glad we do not have the same level of pupil led mischief with new teachers now as we did when I was at school. I have yet to hear any stories about switched nameplates, jotters and homework and I did not come across any of the new teachers being led off track with the pupils attempting to find out more about them. Of course the pupils have little interest really beyond avoiding that days work.

I did however fall into that trap myself (schoolboy error?) as when checking on pupil progress I got drawn into a debate with pupils on whether or not the Police in both American and in London were institutionally racist. Being a typical teacher I kept playing Devils Advocate to encourage greater depth to the argument which led to the Science teacher chucking me out so she could get on with her human genome lesson. I think I have a Detention of Monday to attend.

Thursday morning saw one of the busiest days we have had in our Atrium at break and lunch. In the old canteen we could only hold around 200 pupils, it was very busy and to be honest, although the food was good, the environment was no where near as pleasant as in the new school. The new Atrium is bright, spacious, modern looking and together with the Terrace area holds around 450 seated pupils. We have so many pupils now taking up breaks and lunch that our takings have shot up dramatically and we have been forced to redesign the serving system to improve the flow. This change ensure that we can serve up to 400 pupils in just over 10 minutes.

The numbers in the Atrium increase yet further as pupils return from “down the street” in the run up to the start of afternoon classes and we have 500 to 600 pupils in the central social areas of the school. When the first warning bell sounds at 2.05 our six supervising teachers have five minutes to shift that pupils in an orderly fashion towards their classes ready for lessons commencing at 2.10 pm. This also involves clearing tables of food and rubbish, getting youngsters to cease their no doubt enjoyable chats and get their heads out of their phones. I have to say that such a mammoth task is accomplished daily for most, nearly for some. Most impressive is the respect and good banter that occurs between teachers and hundred of youngsters not keen on giving up their social time in favour of lessons; and I’m not sure how many other schools have teachers actually going round with rubbish bags to help youngsters find the bins. Thanks again to all my teachers who are reading this.

Friday: emails and paperwork with a few staff and pupil issues to contend with. Not every school day holds a story worthy of a blog.

However, one personal event on Friday is an event that will be familiar to some parents and will come to many more. On Friday evening my daughter Anna settled into her new Halls of Residence as she started university. I am so very proud of all her accomplishments both in and out of school. I am positive that everything she learned about the subject she is about to study (History) and the lessons in life achieved through her involvement with things like the Brownies; the Pipe Band; the school’s Rugby Team; her trips to New York and the Battlefields; her involvement on the Laurinburg Exchange; or her role as Fingal Clan Leader, will all prepare her with the next stage in her life.

If there are two pieces of advice I would give to all parents, they would be to encourage your children to take advantage of all the opportunities life has to offer; and secondly spend as much time and love on them as you can before they fly the nest.

Remember this is a personal blog about my life as a Heidie (and this week a Dad), so it will regularly have my views as well as my experiences.

Cheerio Ann

Monday morning began as usual with me welcoming our youngsters into school for another fun filled and action packed week… though in this regard, it’s hard to beat Games week to be honest. Having said that many of our extra-curricular activities are up and running; everything from Football, Rugby, Shinty, Basketball, Badminton, American Football, Dance, Gymnastics, Pipe Band, Music groups; Science groups, film, writing, chess… the list is goes on and on and it changes from term to term. What is most satisfying about all these groups is that I have so many staff willing to give up their time to run them and even more senior pupils acting as leaders and coaches helping staff deal with the sheer volume of interested pupils.

Pupils learn about all these activities from their teachers and from the Weekly Sheet that is provided through their My Time Class. We also repeat these promotions with the wider community via Facebook. Facebook is a great tool for getting messages out into the community for example, passing on information from the train or bus companies about their travel disruptions but also to share our youngsters’ success stories. Stories like Finbar Dunn and Eilidh Shearer now representing their country in athletics and rugby are very pleasing to celebrate, as is recognising the planning and effort necessary to complete Duke of Edinburgh expeditions – a couple of examples from this week. I also like to use it to celebrate the success of former pupils like that of John McPhee who just confirmed he’s riding again with the Moto3 squad next year. John is a talented young man whom I hope to see often on a podium.

We have used Social Media as a communication tool for about 5 years without issue. We have around a dozen administrators making sure it is well managed. Regular surveys show the community likes this method of sharing information, also evidenced by nearly 4000 followers; although pupils are indicating they now prefer Instagram and so we have begun an Instagram account, linked to Facebook and to Twitter. Of course there will always be some who do not like a particular social media method or company but there is a limit to how many we can cater for. When I consider it was not that many years ago when we still issued a termly Newsletter and a number of paper letters via school bag post (that rarely met a parents hands) then I think schools have come a long way in improving parental communication with our communities.

Communication with parents in particular is a key section in the new Draft Education Bill that I am currently commenting on as part of the consultation process. The Bill seeks to ensure that not only do schools communicate with parents, described above but that they also consult with parents via the Parent Councils on issues such as the School Improvement Plan and with finances, for example, how we are spending our Pupil Equity Fund monies. I found this very timeous as I have just confirmed with the Parent Council Chair that these issues are on the agenda for this week’s Parent Council meeting.

Other areas covered by this draft Bill include the new Head Teacher’s Charter giving more direct authority (and responsibility!) for the learning and teaching, staffing and finances of their schools; though still supported by the Local Authorities. This has received mixed responses from across the country. Many education authorities, much to the chagrin of Head Teachers have centralised staffing structures where the Heads don’t get to appoint their own staff or have finance arrangements (referred to as the Scheme of Delegation) which restricts the freedom to spend school monies on initiatives a Head Teacher and their community may wish to. This section of the Bill, along with the discreet sections on staffing and finance will make little change to my role. In the ten years I have been a Head Teacher working for a number of Directors and Heads of Education I have found that I have been given the respect and encouragement to run my school without the hindrance described in other areas elsewhere in Scotland – which led to this Bill. I already have the authority (working within HR rules of course) to appoint who I think best for the roles and I already have the ability to use the resources allocated to the school to take forward the School Improvement Plan.

Therefore the only significant change I envisage from the new Bill relates to the continuing development of the new Regional Improvement Collaboratives. The main purpose of these Collaboratives are to draw together professionals from across many different Local Authorities and to help teachers / schools draw on a wider range of expertise and best practice. As part of their Improvement Plans there is also an increased level of expectation and challenge to improve. Already we have seen benefits across many of our schools with regard to developments in Literacy and I’m sure with time other areas will also be successful, especially in Early Years with Anne Paterson, Chief Education Officer in Argyll and Bute, as the Lead.

I really hope that developments in the Digital Strategy will also be successful as my only concern for the success of the Northern Alliance Collaborative, which Argyll and Bute is a member, arises from the sheer geographical area covered. The Northern Alliance membership includes Aberdeen City; Aberdeenshire; Highland; Moray; Orkney; Shetland; and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Councils. I won’t list the Authorities in the other 6 Collaboratives but these can be found on the Scottish Government website.

Anyway, back to what else I was up to on Monday…

I had the pleasure of meeting up with Iain Gatward, Director of Imani Development, and a driving force in taking forward the Oban as a University Town initiative. Iain leads the work directed by the OaUT Steering Group, of which I am a member: a group Chaired by Professor Donald MacLean. The vision of the group is to “develop a university town that will focus on the distinctive assets and employment opportunities of the area and provide an outstanding experience for students and staff in terms of teaching, practical work, enterprise, leisure and cultural activities and community engagement”.

In short, it’s not about establishing a shiny new big building but using all the existing educational establishments resources and talents to provide an even greater degree of educational provision linked to the interests and needs of the community to not only bring new people and resources to the area but to also keep all the talent we have at the moment, should they wish to stay. Given that I am aware many of my pupils would like to further their higher education here in the local area rather than travel elsewhere this is particularly important. I am also aware that many of our youngsters do explore new environments and decide they wish to return to beautiful Argyll and I believe we need the provide the same higher courses they were doing elsewhere so that if they choose to return their higher education can continue.

There are many articles being written and a few promotional videos out there providing an outline of developments. You may also catch a glimpse of the tag line Love Learning Love Oban… where have my readers spotted that before? Please keep in the loop and support us.

A quick Advanced Higher History lesson followed before lunch and this week my lucky students got to discuss the question of whether or not the Weimar republic was doomed from the very beginning.

After lunch my Deputes, Kevin and Alex met to discuss developments across the school. Our remits have had to be significantly re-drawn since Louise Lawson left to work for the Local Authority and my newly appointed and very talented new DHT, Jemma Playfair won’t start until the first of October. Fortunately we have lots of Principal Teachers and these managers lead a lot of the developments across the school. And, as each year passes and my desire to develop leadership opportunities for all continues to afford leadership opportunities for all staff, many have taken on leadership opportunities allowing us to ensure on-going developments covering a wider area of issues. This was demonstrated when at our meeting we drafted all the development groups that staff must sign up for. We have 17 groups that staff can join. They must join one group at least, no more than two (some would join ten if I let them):

Aileen Jackson leads Raising Attainment and Assertive Mentoring; Fiona Wilson, Eco Schools; Helen Hope, Self-evaluation; Aisling Clark, Developing the Young Workforce; and Sam Martin, Skills Development. The “3Rs – Respect, Resiliance and Relationships” is led by Claire Smith; Inter-disciplinary Learning will be led by Jemma Playfair; Health and Well-being by Kevin Champion; Numeracy, Nan Johnstine; Literacy, Kerri Stewart; and Learning Conversations by Claire Brady, who also leads the Breakfast Club developments along with Joan Reynolds.

Our Breakfast Club, which we refer to as the “3Ts – Tea, Toast and Tutor” is going from strength to strength and we are averaging about 45 pupils each morning coming in for something to eat, many using the Terrace area and booths to catch up on homework, supported by staff or not. The money that D&K Lafferty gave us is being well used.

Our discussion also dealt with the re-establishment of our Homework Club. In addition to the many lunchtime sessions offered by individual staff, there is an after-school homework club every Monday and Wednesday. I am keen to take this even further and have just put a job advert out for a Home-Link Worker. This person will have a dual role. They will support current efforts to ensure pupils come to school and on time – the main reason for under-performance in attainment in any school; and they will establish evening school provision for pupils and parents. I am keen to explore providing after school support closer to homes and will be looking to set up support, in outlying areas, possibly Dunbeg, Lochnell etc… this needs more work over the coming couple of months, once we appoint this new position.

After watching the Assembly on Tuesday morning, which featured a very interesting presentation by Fiona Wilson on protecting the environment I had a wee walk around the corridors and some classes to see how the classes were settling down. Our school has always been considered well-ordered and very calm by visitors; the new school with its bright, wide Atrium and corridors help this still further. Of course the general calm across a school with over a thousand people interacting with each other every 45 minutes or so does generate the old unfortunate interaction and some of our new pupils are learning how seriously we enforce our high expectations with regards to maintaining a disciplined school. Every days a school day as they say.

Blue planet

After supervising a very busy break, I had to travel to Kilmory, the Head Quarters of Argyl and Bute Council, in Lochgilphead. First up was a meeting with my Director, Douglas Hendry, then into a meeting of the Transformational Board. I always smile when I tell people I have to meet my boss and they seem surprised that Head Teachers have a boss. Everyone has a boss, it doesn’t matter if you are an employee, self-employed or a politician, you are accountable to someone else… the person who pays your wages, the customers who provide your profits or the people whom elect you.

The Transformational Board was established to oversee all the Council’s transformational opportunities. A significant area of work for the Board over the short to medium term is to challenge services to deliver savings; to cut business costs but to also maximise income. It looks at how we can re-design our service and seek to become self-funding. It is one part of the Council’s Financial Strategy 2018-28 (available on the Council website). I have not been on this Board for very long but can honestly say that whilst clearly all Local Authorities have to balance a budget, our discussions continue to recognise the importance of providing a quality service and protecting peoples livelihoods.

Wednesday saw me attend the Head Teacher Advisory Group. Each of the four education areas across Argyll and Bute send three Head Teachers, two Primary and one Secondary to meet and discuss educational developments across the whole Authority. This is a great opportunity for me to meet other Head Teachers from other areas who have all come together to share good practice. One of the learning and teaching initiatives I heard about was “Making Learning Visible”, underway in Hermitage Academy just now. I have asked my DHT, Kevin Champion to go and visit. The best professional learning for Head Teachers is finding the time to come together and discuss which national or even international initiatives or systems are working. Education across the country is filled with new ideas, new ways of working, sometimes old ways of working repackaged. Schools across the country trial these, some work, some do not. I always think it’s best to ask another school about the pros and cons before diving in to deeply.

Whatever arises from these meetings in terms of new ideas or discussions on taking forward existing good practice more consistently, the key is that those involved return to their areas where the discussions and agreements are shared across the whole local Cluster; in our case (I attend with Gillian Carney for Park Primary and Shirley Matheson from Lochnell Primary) with the Oban Lorn and the Isles cluster of 19 schools.

I spent almost the entire day on Thursday with issues either a wee bit too sensitive for a blog and others too boring to interest anyone to any great degree.

The one exception to this was when my depute Alex Craik and I went to the Corran Halls to visit 14 of our pupils who were on day nine of a ten day Social Enterprise Academy Course: Effective Team Member Skills. During the previous eight days our pupils had the chance to visit a number of social enterprises including Atlantis Leisure; Dunollie House and Green Shoots where they learned how a Social Enterprise worked, what the benefits to the community were and how they could learn a wide range of knowledge and skills whilst examining these. The course culminated with a City and Guilds exam, at SCQF Level 5 (like national 5)> it was funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and delivered by two local experts in social enterprise, Roy Clunie and Ewen Munro. The pupils I spoke to spoke very highly of the tutors and their experiences.

Social Enterprise

There were two highlights to Friday. Firstly I gathered staff together at break to say goodbye to one of our most loved and long-standing members of staff, Ann Watt. Ann has worked in Oban High School since 1993. Much of this time was spent at the reception window of our office so I am aware there will be thousands of my local readers who know her very well indeed. I am sure you will have found her to be as cheery as I found her and cheery is a perfect word to describe her as it perfectly matches her joyous catchphrase: “Cheerio” she shouted, smiling away as she left the school each day. She will be missed by all the staff and pupils she looked after each day. I know they wish her a very enjoyable retirement indeed.

Ann presentation

The second highlight of the day was the annual Professional discussion on Oban High’s results. Each year the Secondary Heads meet with the Head of Service to give account of our SQA results. This year, Jennifer McGhee, HT Tobermory, Graham Wilks, HT Tiree and myself met with our two new Heads of Education, Anne Paterson and Louise Connor to give an analysis of our initial results, describe the efforts made in attaining these and outline our improvement plans for the following year. We also took the opportunity to discuss issues such as attendance, exclusion, Pupil Equity funding developments amongst others. These meetings are another example of developments recognising the importance of Head Teachers coming together to share ideas and experiences rather than working in isolation. I found the meeting very informative and stored away a few ideas from the other Heidies for me to explore later.

So, all in all, another busy week. It seems most of you are enjoying (or at least tolerating) my weekend summary of my week. I would remind readers that this is not an official diary or parental newsletter or suchlike. This is a personal blog designed to give an idea about the life of a HT. In order to do so, I share a bit of what goes on in my school and a view or two about national debates.

I would like to end by saying thank you to my 5,498 readers from 67, yes sixty-seven, countries. Amazing!!