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.

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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!!

Let the Games commence

Well, we are back up and running as if we have never been away and never had a Summer holiday. The school is bustling again and the rain has returned. Normality has resumed. Why oh why did we complain about too much sun.

Another staple of our normal week is the Clan assemblies and I began the week by welcoming all our Diarmid Clan members back to school and I repeated my congratulations made to the seniors last week so that everyone was aware of the benefits of commitment and hard work.

One of the reasons we hold Clan assemblies rather than year group assemblies is to ensure that everyone is aware of what is happening across the school. It is good for the junior pupils to learn about what to expect in the coming years and it is good for the seniors to know what is currently being provided for the junior pupils. Hopefully the seniors notice the changes from when they were younger, changes brought about in part due to their feedback. Finally, by having all years together everyone gets a consistent message about our basic expectations and desires and the reassurance that our high expectations are for everyone equally.

The start of Monday morning was taken up with the usual discussions around where we are with the demolition of the old school, what snagging has still to be done in the new school and which management tasks have been progressed, or not, from the previous week.

After supervising the morning break I was very pleased to have been asked to accompany Sam Martin, the PT for Expressive Arts on a Learning Walk throughout our Art Department. These Learning Walks are part of a new self-evaluation / quality assurance system we have adopted this year. There are a few levels to these experiences. The observation of the pupils’ learning experiences can be observed by the PT of the subject or faculty area, by a peer teacher or by a team of staff both evaluating and learning of and about good practice from across the school. In each instance an analysis is carried out using a consistent set of written expectations for all such observations. Regardless of the observations being carried out by a PT, peer group of whole school team the key to development and shared learning really occurs at the later discussion stage with the class teacher who led the lesson.

There is nothing revolutionary about this type of activity. We have been carrying out similar exercises for years. Some longer, some shorter; some more formal, some less so. However I think it is good to put a new team of teachers together every couple of years to discuss what makes a good lesson and come up with a fresh way of evaluating and sharing. This freshness hopefully leads to a renewed focus on improving the pupil learning experience and so lead to better lessons taught more consistently.

I was especially interested to have a closer look at Art as well. The Art results this year were particularly good, more so since we were running short in Art teachers last year and each class were taught across multiple levels. Indeed our Art classes this year are again taught across three, even four levels in one case.

Many claim that multi level teaching is detrimental to effective learning. Many of those who make this claim have usually only taught in large schools with a narrow curriculum that allows for more single level courses… but at the cost of breadth of opportunity for more pupils. The vast majority of schools across the country are of a size that ensures that multi level courses are common and consequently produce enough statistical evidence to prove that regardless of whether one is taught in a multi level subject or single level subject, both can produce Grade A, Band 1 results and both systems can allow pupils to attain 5 As, if that is what they are capable of achieving. Unsurprising really as all classes have multiple layers of ability in them all the way from nursery to university. It is the ability of the teacher, the quality of the lessons and the commitment of the pupil that determines degrees of success, not this system.

Of course this leads us onto the running debate over Setting and Steaming in schools across the world. The research on this issue is wide and varied and proponents or opponents of Setting will call on one piece of research over others to back their desire to teach one way or another. I don’t believe Head Teachers have that luxury and so think best to follow guidance given by Education Scotland. Education Scotland publish their many advice notes through an online portal called the National Improvement Hub. They also form the basis for much of their guides from research gathered from the Educational Endowment Fund and that institution and well published findings report give a good guide over how best to tackle the issue of Setting.

To summarise in a few sentences. Setting the gifted and talented youngsters together, the top 5- 10% roughly, can produce an added benefit for those pupils. Setting the lowest academically able youngsters together and giving them smaller classes with our best teachers will produce added benefits for those pupils. If we set the (roughly) 80% who make up the mass of a school and make them go up and down a setting ladder it leads to pupils, on the whole, being stuck at a particular level achieved by a whole class and/or leads to pupils being demoralised as they do not progress up the ladder in any great number.

The EEF research findings suggest that mixed ability classes leads to the greatest impact on pupil attainment for the majority. This is achieved through lower ability pupils learning from those in the class with higher ability (at that time); from higher ability pupils increasing their knowledge and skills through teaching others – a proven learning tool; and from all pupils developing a far greater degree of social skills from working with a broader range of pupils with a broader range of skills and experiences over and above academic ability.

Anyway, back to the start of the week. I found Monday lunchtime to be very enjoyable as I had invited all the new staff we just welcomed to the school for a lunch. This gave me the chance to make sure everyone knew each other and to check if they had all settled in as best they could after their first week. It is quite daunting to be a new teacher, in a new school and in what for most is quite a different local environment to what they are used to.

Every year we start off the session with new staff. I have never commenced the year with so many. It will be a challenge in particular for my excellent Depute, Kevin Champion, who is not only responsible for taking forward the professional learning of all our colleagues but particularly of our new staff, including four probationer teachers.

After lunch, I had a very pleasant afternoon watching some of our pipers and Highland dancers performing at the wee square at Stafford Street. As part of our partnership with the Argyllshire Gathering and in support of the Oban Games we were promoting the Oban Games through our performances and advertising the event via the flyers we handed out to locals and tourists alike. I’m not sure that many are aware that the Argyllshire Gathering use profits from the Oban Games to match fund piping tuition for dozens of primary school pupils through their Piping Trust, so the more attend, the more Piping tuition our younger kids may get.

Tuesday started as Monday had with another assembly, this time to Fingal. However, embarrassingly I found myself late as ironically I was dealing with around 50 or 60 pupils all sauntering into school with little regard for the time. As our mantra is that the purpose of school is to prepare us for a life of work I didn’t miss the opportunity to reiterate this fact. Tough love!

Many believe that school starts at 9.05 pm. It starts at 9 am, our lessons commence at 9.05 am and both pupils and indeed staff should already be at the door and settling down to get cracking at 9.05.

I had another pleasant lunch on Tuesday, this time with the Senior Pupil Leadership Team about their forthcoming duties, for example representing the views and ideas of pupils from across the school. It is the role of each of the Clan Leaders, led by the School Captains, to go round Clan My Time classes most mornings chatting to members of their clans and finding how how they are settling in or getting on, as well as listening to concerns and ideas. Thereafter, they gather together weekly and pull all the information gathered to identify any ideas they think they as a team can run with or what we need to address.

Good ideas suggested previously from younger pupils were the establishment of an all year round homework club (established and expanded to both mornings and after school); Easter Support (provided); more outdoor seating and better changing rooms (provided but overtaken with the new school); seniors to act as a support for the busy Guidance Teachers (to be established this session); more teachers (achieved). Ideas not taken forward. Start later in the day; getting a half day on a Friday; the ability to choose which teachers they got for each subject.

Another discussion took place on making sure the Prefects were all in place for the following week and making sure they knew which roles they had to perform, including looking after the younger pupils and helping to supervise break on their Clan day, in particular making sure that our pupils clear their rubbish into the bins.

We also discussed the promotion and interview process required to appoint S3 pupils to the Junior Pupil Leadership Team. The seniors run this process themselves though with consistent guidance from Alex Craik, who does a marvellous job of overseeing most aspects of the senior school. I have mentioned before that we pride ourselves on having a very prominent policy of developing leadership skills and experience across the school and this is designed to develop pupils as well as staff.

Indeed, so important do we feel this skill to be that we have built in a Leadership period of learning into the timetable for all S5 and S6 pupils, all of whom will progress through the SQAs Leadership qualification which can lead to an award of an SCQF 5 or 6 (Nat 5 / Higher equivalent). When our youngsters leave school they should leave with an additional qualification which helps them stand apart and above many others they are competing with in life; and which demonstrates a skills that employers value highly.

The lunch concluded with a great wee video taken of the SPLT members describing what they had learned from their week long residential leadership course at Loch Eil. Each year we send all our seniors away on this leadership – team building experience to help them bond as a team and make it more likely they work together as an effective team throughout the year. We use a great company called Outward Bound for the purpose. So impressed are we with their courses that each of the Argyll and Bute Secondary schools have signed up to a similar course for their seniors and we have all agreed to send junior pupils after Christmas.

I spent the whole of Tuesday afternoon teaching Advanced Higher History all about the German Revolution 1918-19. As soon as I finish this blog I better go and mark the essays I set for this week. Just as well it’s raining.

Tuesday’s after school staff meeting was unusual as I decided to use the Atrium steps to address all the staff. I felt that I was back at university lecturing students on the Causes of the Great War…. which probably means that my staff felt like students being lectured to. I shall have to reconsider this set up.

As well as discussing the schools digital strategy and challenges currently faced with re-establishing our Share My Homework system and fully establishing Google Classroom for all staff, pupils and classes, I also took the opportunity to thank Louise Lawson for all her great work as one of my Deputes and to wish her well as she undertakes a new (temporary) role for the local authority.

After the whole staff meeting, yet another meeting was held for Management (all Principal Teachers and Depute Heads) regarding our new self evaluation work and observation guidelines.

Then there were the short individual meetings with PTs on the subject of achieving our eco-school ideals and taking forward our tracking and monitoring of pupils. Is it really only Tuesday?

Wednesday began with a meeting with the new PT for Raising Attainment, Aileen Jackson, where we discussed the report currently being concluded on the success of last year’s strategies for Closing the Poverty Related Attainment Gap and how successfully we used the Pupil Equity Fund monies. This report will be delivered to our Parent Council in the first instance the week after next.

In the afternoon there was a wee trip to the Inveraray Conference Centre to attend the Joint Services Committee meeting. This small committee includes representation from a number of trade unions, professional associations and education management. All work together very well indeed generating ideas and resolving issues related to taking forward education across Argyll and Bute. I am aware that not all local authorities have achieved the level of commitment to harmonious working between unions and management that Argyll and Bute have achieved and this is down to the professionalism and character of the current membership.

Games day 1: After delivering another assembly, this time to Ossian pupils, I took off to the Oban Games along with the Senior Pupil Leadership Team members who were all acting as stewards, runners and hosts for the Games. They also had to represent the school at their own table within the Heritage tent alongside other organisations like SAMS, Bid4Oban; Oban Distillery; the Rockfield Centre… and many others.

I spent most of the day ensuring that the seniors, our dancers, athletes and musicians were all ok, entertaining the audiences and were fed and watered. We had over 50 performing in the Pipe Band display, centre field, as well as leading the march to and from the Square. Many also took part in the individual Piping competitions throughout the day. We had approximately 50 athletes competing on the track and in the gruelling Hill Race. I had a sore leg, so couldn’t manage that one.

The School of Dance and School of Traditional Music had their own Marquee and took turns in performing many an enthusiastic audience who tapped along to the tunes or watching mouth agape at the talent of our dancers, some doing expressive modern dance, others with Highland dances. Such breadth of talent across both Schools always takes my breath away and makes me very proud.

Friday, Games Day 2: OHS Games

We have been holding our own Highland Games for five years now. The day commences with a gathering of our Clans on our own sports pitch before they are Piped to Mossfield Stadium where all the Marquees, pavilions, piping and dancing platforms have been left for us. To rent such facilities and give our Games the same look and atmosphere as the real thing would cost thousands. Thanks very much to the Argyllshire Gathering and the Games Committee. Thanks too to Bid4Oban and McQueens for additional resources. We are very grateful.

The Pipe Band meet us at the gates of Mossfield and each clan marches in order behind the band before gathering in and in front of the main stand. After I officially open the games with a short speech and vote of thanks, and this year was a very short speech during the torrential rain, then the pupils make their way in numerous different directions to take part in the athletics, the Heavies, the cake or art competitions. Others rush to be the first on the inflatables or the queue for the bacon rolls or burgers. Others are more restrained and walk casually to get ready to listen to our musicians or take part in the ceilidh. Others merely want to sit and chat or play with the giant Jemma, giant dominoes, giant cards, beat the goalie, coconut shy etc.

Most this year ran for cover in the Marquees. There is more than enough cover for all pupils when it’s raining.

There is something for all tastes. We even have a game called the Great Escape, where some of our youngsters use the sheer size of the venue to look for escape routes over and under fences, whilst avoiding the patrols of teachers, in an effort to avoid taking part. The teachers (guards) usually win.

The games did conclude with the presentation of the silverware to roaring cheers, culminating with the biggest cheer of all for Clan Ossian who accumulated the most points overall and won the Games for the first time.

Sadly some of our youngsters didn’t make it to the Games as the poor weather of late affected many with a degree of illness that led to record numbers being absent on the day. Others missed the Games because they were participating in a Duke of Edinburgh expedition. Those intrepid explorers did make it back safely on Saturday…

and another met another successful day for our Pipe Band who were 1st in the School Band category; were 1st in the Novice A/4A group; came 1st in the Juvenile Drums and Band in the Cowal Games. Four more trophies for the Cabinet. I think I’ll need to order more silver polish. Well done to everyone involved but especially Angus McColl and Nan Johnstone.

Thankfully Sunday is a day of rest, well after writing this blog and marking my History essays it will be.

The best laid plans of mice and Heidies

The first week back proper began with only the staff braving the early morning alarm clocks.

It was back into school at 9 a.m. on Monday morning for an intensive day of professional learning activities. Throughout the day staff worked in groups to discuss issues such as child protection guidelines; attachment and trauma strategies; dyslexia learning strategies; and culminating with all staff going over all our individual support information for pupils they are due to teach this session. We did build in a lunch, I think.

Tuesday saw the first day back for our pupils. I opened with an assembly for our new S1 pupils where I gave them a warm welcome and reminded them that we are hear to look after them. They were all encouraged to seek out help and ask as many questions as required from all the staff and senior pupils. Additionally I gave them the first of many assemblies reiterating to all our pupils that the purpose of school is to get them ready for work and of our basic rules: come to school, on time, in uniform, with kit and equipment and show respect for ones self and others…. if we can instil these basic habits in our youngsters, they’ll be off to a good start in life. Kevin Champion, who is responsible for all aspects of transition between primary and high school continued where I left off and enthused them with what was coming up throughout the day, weeks and months ahead in our exciting curriculum.

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As they were all dismissed to head of for the first class of their new school careers, all were given a welcome pack of a school encrested ruler, pencil and great looking aluminium water bottle by Alex Craik and myself and we gave huge vote of thanks to David and Kathleen Lafferty for funding this very generous welcome pack.

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Most of the day was spent catching up with Principal Teachers about issues in their departments or with going round classes making sure everyone was settling in. As always, I found more than a few lost first years and put my tour guide hat back on. Unlike the old school, which had numerous levels, half levels, dead ends etc, our new school is very easy to navigate with all the classes clearly numbered and in order. All one needs to do is look at any numbered class and walk clockwise until the correct classroom appears. Easy? Well, even I still go the long way round sometimes.

The day concluded as it began, with an assembly; this time for S5 and S6. I began by congratulating everyone on their exam success and reminding them that no matter what they achieved – results they expected or results they didn’t – it was what they did now that mattered. If they achieved everything they set out to achieve, then the message was not to rest on their laurels but to grasp all the opportunities and new experiences on offer. If they didn’t get all they expected, then the message was to show resilience and determination and carry on with whatever they needed to to achieve their goal.

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It is also our custom to give out a free tie to all our new S5 pupils. The senior tie reflects the difference between the junior school where school is compulsory and the senior school where they have chosen to remain with us. This is an important distinction as it should demonstrate a level of commitment and maturity necessary to achieve at a much higher level of education and experience. Like many other schools across the country we ask that our seniors sign School Contracts. These contracts make clear what our high expectations are with regard to attendance and work ethic. On the whole the vast majority of our seniors aspire to the same level of commitment as we expect, although every year we see the need to dust the contract down as the year progresses as a reminder.

If I was totally honest however, the threat of losing their Jingles (Christmas Dance) ticket keeps them all motivated until January.

Tuesday finished with a staff meeting where I had the chance to go over some standard practice with our staff, especially important given how many new staff we have just taken on. This meeting covered things like our behaviour policy, guidelines on using mobile phones in lessons; dealing with late coming etc.

Wednesday opened with both good and bad news. Matt Walker, our excellent Tech teacher came to tell me he’s been offered a job back home in Northern Ireland and he would like to return home to be closer to family. Matt is a well respected and well loved young teacher who has really struck up great relationships with his pupils and built a place for himself within the community. He will be a big loss but I wish him all the very best. Hopefully I will see him again next year when I return to Stranmillis University College in Belfast during my next recruitment drive.

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At the end of last session, after appointing 14 new staff, we were almost at a full staffing compliment and our timetable was all set and looking good for this week. However on day one, we discovered a newly appointed Science teacher had changed their mind and wasn’t coming and now I find myself a Tech and Science teacher down. Both Science and Technical Teachers are in high demand and in short supply. Up until our last round of adverts, if memory serves me correct, I had already advertised these two positions at least four times each without success; despite offering relocation packages and staff accommodation to help new staff settle into the area.

All schools will face this issue at the start of a term at some point, indeed many rural schools will face this problem annually. The problem arises from the nature of adverts and appointments across all Scottish schools. It is most common for schools to gain an understanding of their curricular needs, and so staffing needs, as they go through the pupil options forms each Spring. This is also around the time when staff will indicate their desire to retire. So, schools place adverts around Easter to cover the teachers required for the changing timetables or to replace those retiring. Many jobs are filled in May and early June.

As staff pick up new posts, either closer to home or for promotion at this time, schools are then forced to rush out another set of adverts to replace them. These last minute interviews and appointments are often held in the last week of term. The knock on to these however is that they again generate additional vacancies that cannot be filled until well into the new term when the new classes have all began and our pupils are faced with either subjects being collapsed or being given a supply teacher as soon as they walk in the door.

In our case, we will have to temporarily re-write our timetable and provide additional classes in subject areas where we have more capacity, for example extra English and less Technical. Hopefully we will fill our posts soon and the normal timetable can resume quickly.

We currently require a Technical teacher, a Science teacher, a Principal Teacher of Guidance…. and I am creating a new post of Health and Well-being Home Link Worker to help children and parents with both getting to school and learning at home. I also hope to have support provided in the evenings in the local communities, though that is a couple of months away yet.

If anyone knows of anyone who wishes to come and work in an exciting and progressive school, set in a friendly and vibrant community, in a beautifull part of the world, then please get them to call me.

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Thursday morning was more of a standard day of catch ups with managers and ploughing through emails although I did get to break up the day and take a tour around some classes when my boss Douglas Hendry came to visit with Councillor Yvonne McNeilly. It was great to catch up with both and discuss how the pupils and wider community are benefitting from the superb facilities.

Douglas is in charge of IT as well as Education in the Council and Councillor McNeilly has a real desire to see us use more digital learning. Our discussions on how to provide more access to education via technology were very positive. I am a firm believer in embracing 21st Century technology to help our youngsters prepare for life and work. I think it’s essential that teachers are keen to explore and more importantly to use new technology. A year ago we embarked on a new digital learning strategy. Each teacher was provided with an iPad, various Apps and training. We need to make sure our staff can use the technology themselves before we have any hope of it being successfully used in the classroom. This year we have planned a series of IT professional learning opportunities to build on our early success. We already use Glow, Didbook and Show My Homework to good effect but this forthcoming year will see us make more use of G Suite, Google Classroom in particular but also Google Guardian, which is designed for parents.

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The most impressive IT developments we have in the school however must be the new 75 inch teaching screens which are effectively huge iPads on the walls of every classroom, staff base and general teaching area. This significant investment by the Council allows our teachers to access a wealth of teaching resources from their digital top drawer or though education platforms from across the World instantly in our lessons; and all can be used interactively with pupils.

When I first started teaching, I thought I was stimulating youngsters with my use of coloured chalk… oh how times have changed as I now deliver lessons using Apps such as iMovie and share my lessons with Google Classroom for those missing class that day.

I do miss the chalk and the black board though…. must be the Historian in me.

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Hurray!!!! Just as I was about to close, my phone is frantically dinging away with news that out pipe band just came second in the World Championships at Glasgow Green. Another great result for our young musicians, Pipe Major Angus McColl, Nan Johnstone and all the parent and community helpers.

Well done everyone!!!

Back to school with a bang.

The first week back was very exciting and very, very busy.

“First week back?” I hear you say. Don’t worry if you are a parent reading this… the kids are not due back until Tuesday. However the week before we start back formally sees the school fill up as teachers return to school to start preparing for their classes, scrutinise their pupils exam results; and this year, we had to go in for an in-service day on the Friday.

My week started, as most weeks do at the moment with a walk around the new school, checking on the progress with the snagging issues. The main building may be built but we still have building works on going. The new pitch was laid this week although the rain prevented us from finishing the sand and beads going down. It will be ready in a few days. We are also building a Piping and Drumming Pavilion which will allow some of our more noisy musical endeavours to be accomplished without disrupting the tranquillity of the main building.

I should say at this point a huge well done to our pipe band for a tremendous achievement throughout the Summer competition season. First equal in the Scottish and two second place efforts in the UK and the European Championships. I am confident we will get another First place at the World Championships at Glasgow Green this coming Saturday, fingers crossed.

I also took a tour of the demolition site ensuring that the works would not impact on the new school when our pupils return and I got an idea of the scale of the new landscaping project that will commence soon, giving us a fantastic area for pupils to socialise at breaks and lunch, something severely lacking in the old school.

I have been asked more than a few times why we didn’t keep the old building and use it for other council departments or lease it out etc. The answer to this is quite simple. When I originally composed the bid to the Scottish Government for the funding necessary to build a new school, I stated that a priority was the acquisition of social space for our pupils. Much of the space created will be used to create a very large landscaped area for our pupils to relax and enjoy the fresh air.

Tuesday was SQA results day. All Head Teachers actually receive the results the week before but because my two children are also going through their exams I refrained from looking at anyones results until after my own children opened their envelopes. I find it’s an exciting and nervous time… for both children, and their parents. When I did open the school results I was very pleased to note that our National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher results all saw a percentage pass improvement on the previous year.

There are two crucial points to make in any discussion about results and especially now, in August. Firstly, not all the results are processed at this time. We have pupils who have sat exams with different certificating bodies; we have pupils who have sat SQA Awards that are not added to our statistics yet; and we have pupils who sit our courses with other education providers and their results are not processed fully. I noted in a previous Blog that last year’s outstanding achievements were not fully known until the full and final achievement report was published in February. It will be the same this year. It is simply not possible to get an accurate picture of any school’s success rate until the following February.

Last session, our Positive Destination were above all comparators; our literacy and numeracy figures were well above our Virtual Comparator; our traditional model of measuring subject success by looking at 1 +, 3+ and 5+ National 5s and Highers were all positive… indeed, I recall noting in the Prize-giving ceremony that a pupil in OHS is ten times more likely to get 10+ Highers compared with pupils from across Scotland who make up our Virtual Comparator.

It is important to note that we also have work to do to increase our successes in a number of subject areas and like all schools we use our statistical analysis to determine which areas we need to improve on and how best to develop these areas.

The second problem with looking at early reports of exam success is that nationally we are drawn into discussions about percentage pass rates. Despite the Scottish Government telling us to use their analysis tool called Insight; the HMIe telling us not to use percentage pass rates as a comparative measure; and despite Local Authorities sensibly putting out health warnings about the percentage pass rate data, we still report on them nationally to satiate media interests. Once again there has been significant professional debate about their use. My reflections on this issue are that as long as we keep focusing on percentage pass rates then many, if not most, schools will continue to under present pupils for exams to keep pass rates up. They do this because of the pressure they face from the HMIe; the media; politicians; and parents, all of whom complain when the percentage pass rates are lower than the national average or a schools last set of exam results. I believe that we should present pupils for whatever they want to sit. If we take a chance and present an extra 20 borderline pupils and half a dozen extra pass, then that’s half a dozen closer to their dream…. and those kids think we are great. The flip side to this is that the borderlines who fail mess up a school’s average percentage pass rates and many others think the school is underperforming. However Head Teachers are paid to fulfil dreams and our decisions should entirely focus on that aim.

The national debate does not end there. There is also the annual outcry over the over-emphasis and media hype around those youngsters who pass 5 Highers and go onto University; whilst ignoring the blood, sweat and tears of those who didn’t get 5 As but still managed to achieve their university dream with 4 As and a B or get the job they wanted with 2 Highers and 3 Nat 5s… or whatever.

The prime focus of education is to get our children ready for life and work. That means getting them the qualifications and experiences necessary to get into a variety of universities and colleges, or straight into employment with an even broader range of skills sets and qualification requirements. I think it is entirely right and proper to recognise the achievement of the 5 A pupils but we, society in general, need to congratulate all our youngsters and celebrate all their success stories which have let them towards whatever their chosen career path is. Both are equally important.

Another point to consider is the importance of the time spent on experiences at the expense of qualifications. This is something that employers are emphasising and which many people do not fully appreciate. There are thousands of pupils who receive exactly the same qualifications. The number and grades of these qualifications open certain doors; the door to an interview for example. However, with so many applicants having the same qualifications, how then does an employer whittle down those for interview? They use the wider experiences noted in the application. Experiences that show that the applicant has the right character and ideally some previous experience that could get the applicant up and running as soon as they walk in the door.

The need for such experiences is not only confined to those entering the workplace straight away. Such a necessity can impact on those applying for college or university places. It is for this reason that we encourage all our S6 pupils to complete a work based vocational opportunity than merely doing another Higher or Nat 5. I shall give one practical example of the importance of this strategy. Youngsters leaving school and seeking a career in primary teaching find it difficult to get into a teaching degree course because there are so many older applicants who have managed to acquire experience in working with children which adds to their academic achievements. Most youngsters straight out of school will have the same qualifications but not the experience. They therefore can’t get into these courses and have to take other jobs until they gain the experience. As part of our Pathways Programme, our local primaries offer to mentor our interested pupils one afternoon a week for around 8 months, thereby giving them the skills necessary to compete with the older candidates on an equal footing and helping them get into courses earlier. Around 80 of our pupils are mentored in a variety of placements and many receive job offers as a result of their experiences, commitment and success in their placements.

Many of our teachers were back in school carrying out their exam analysis. On Wednesday I was in school working on making adaptations to the remits of the Senior Leadership Team and the School Improvement Plan. On the last day of term interviews were held to appoint Depute Heads. Two acting DHTs (Kevin Champion and Alex Craik) secure permanent contracts and we appointed Jemma Playfair, currently working as a Principal Teacher of Guidance in Elgin but originally from Dalkeith, into the third vacancy. Jemma spent a few days working with us during the holiday but will have to wait until the 1st of October to take up this permanent position fully. She will be the Head of Fingal.

In the evening it was time to take on my role as committee member for the Oban Games and we met to firm up details for this year’s Games, which will be held on Thursday 23rd August. Oban High School fully supports any pupil who wishes to take part in the Oban Games. Our young athletes compete in individual events; and this year there is an inter-schools team event. Our pipe band lead the march to the Games at 10.30 am from outside the Perle, play a few sets around half 12 and march the field back to the Square at 4.30 pm.  Our School of Traditional Music and School of Dance youngsters perform throughout the day and our Senior Pupil Leadership Team members all carry out roles in support of the various Games Stewards as well as manning our stall in the Heritage tent. This is a great day out and I would encourage everyone who can make it to attend. I would also like to say a huge thank you to the Argyllshire Gathering for leaving all their Marquees; piping and dancing platforms for us; and for sponsoring our Heavies competition at the School Highland Games on Friday 24th. Having all the same set up and equipment as the town Games really adds to experience for our youngsters.

Thursday was another busy day as I met with all the members of the SLT to discuss the practical details necessary to welcome back all the staff and to deliver the professional learning across the Friday and Monday in-Service days. I also squeezed in another update meeting about new school developments with the Special Projects Team and FES (our local maintenance provider). It is very pleasing indeed to know that we have so many dedicated people involved in building our fantastic new school who are keen to work with me in ensuring we offer the best facilities we can for our community. Some things take longer than others; our geography is sometimes a factor, but overall things are progressing well.

The first day back proper – Friday! This is the chance for the Head Teacher to wish everyone well; to thank all the staff for all their hard work and congratulate them on their exam successes. It is also a time to congratulate those who got married, got engaged or had children during the holiday. Basically, it’s a real feel good time. It’s also the time for the Head Teacher to set out their vision for the forthcoming year.

My message remains consistent each year. The purpose of school is to prepare youngsters for life and work. We need to promote the school vision of ensuring we achieve the best possible qualifications, whilst ensuring we promote and develop all our social, emotional and vocational knowledge and skills to allow everyone to achieve their full potential. However, I also add in a theme each year and this year’s theme is to be positive, as positivity can lead to success and a raising of attainment. Far too often many of us can fall into the trap of seeing our glass as half empty, rather than half full. Education is a complex environment; it is stressful for staff at certain times of the year (it can be particularly stressful when moving school or when short staffed as we were last session – no longer a concern).

It is stressful for pupils at certain times of the year, usually around prelim and exam times when they realise they should have been studying all year and not just the previous week or two. For all pupils, the consequences of exam success or failure weigh heavily on their minds. This is entirely natural for adults as well as our youngsters.

For years we have been developing the new CfE courses, revamping lesson plans and worksheets, redrafting or even making up entirely new assessments; thinking of innovative, exciting and interesting lessons to engage our pupils. We do this every year and many pupils benefit. However, this year I have told all our staff that we will turn the majority of our development time over to looking at the health and well-being of our pupils, not just as a whole school exercise as we do every year but as individuals in individual classes. I believe we need all our teachers to learn from our best practioners and learn how to identify social and emotional need as much as academic need. If we can help overcome these barriers then academic positivity may be achieved for many more young people.

Nationally, we need to do more to help those with emotional concerns and stresses in our classes. These concerns and stresses arise because of a variety of pressures. They arise because of the home environments many find themselves in (for example, many of our youngsters are young carers); because of the pressure either a pupil puts on themselves or parents puts a youngsters throughout the year but particularly in the run up to exams; because of bullying by their peers (almost exclusively linked to social media); because of inter-personal conflicts with teachers; around concerns over achieving a career goal; and many are linked to poverty.

The pressure to succeed at school whilst also holding down a job that helps contribute to the household finances is a very common experience for many of our pupils. It also explains why we have quite a high absence rate as many pupils don’t come to school regularly; come late and take family holidays during term time as they can’t afford to during the holidays. Obviously this impacts on the ability of pupils to both pass exams and benefit from all the wider experiences we provide.

The “Poverty Related Attainment Gap” is a real problem for most schools, including our own. We already provide full time Guidance Teachers; a large Support Department; employ Youth Development Workers; have close partnership with our excellent Educational Psychologist Team, Children and Families department; and have local community links with great support organisations like H2O, Youth Café, Oasis, Live Argyll…. And many more. Additionally, we provide financial support to help with accessing our wider education opportunities thanks to the support of our own Parent Council; the Outward Bound Trust; D&K Lafferty; the Rotary Club; and the Argyllshire Gathering.

Such valued support is helping us to “Close the Gap” but we can always do more and this remains a priority for us this year as we continue to use the Pupil Equity Funding provided by the Scottish Government to pay for additional staffing and support measures to help those in need.

I am very proud to say that we have around 100 local partners giving up their time to support our pupils’ career aspirations or giving us money to help those who require a wee bit of financial support. Thanks to you all!!

On that happy note… I’m looking forward to another far busier week with all our returning pupils.

End of an era

It with is great sadness that I begin my most recent blog with the devastating news that John Porter has passed away. John has worked in our Science Faculty for over 25 years and consequently has been an inspiration to thousands of our children. Only a few days ago, John observed that he thought he would see out his days in the old school. Prophetic.

John’s success, indeed the success of all the pupils who benefited from his skills as a teacher, can be attributed to not only his sound knowledge of his subject and decades of practice getting pupils ready for exams but to his unique personality. John was a calm teacher, with occasional displeasure rarely being audible. My enduring recollection of his classroom management lies in my observations of him using mere facial expressions to control and direct his classes. Misbehaviour was corrected with a frown and a downward motion of his head. Suspected foul play in the offing; a squint and pursed lips redressed the situation. Adulation and pride when his pupils demonstrated what they had learned that day was met with a raised chin and wry smile. “There you go Mr. Bain, seems they were listening after all.”

As well as being popular with our children, John also gained the respect and friendship of all his colleagues: both in and out of school. His calm approach and wry humour could be found not only in the class but frequently in staff gatherings, large ones in the hall; smaller ones at the school gates, where he liked to take in the fresh air at breaks and lunchtimes. Whether having a chat around the back of seven in the pouring rain where we would meet walking our dogs, or in the corridors of Science, John always conveyed to me what it was like to be the perfect gentleman. I found him to be exceptionally pleasant, he made me smile and he was a fantastic teacher. I will miss him greatly, as will his colleagues and pupils. Our thoughts are with his wife Barbara and children Michael and Sasha.

There are a few staff in Oban High School who have taught alongside John for decades and they too face a different type of melancholy in addition to the heartache of losing a dear colleague. It may seem strange to some but when one works in the same place for so long (and in Duncan Sinclair’s case the same classroom for 24 years) an emotional bond to your environment becomes established. The School may be considered ‘just’ to be a place to work; but school communities are our extended family to a large extent and the school building surrounding us our home (away from home). Moving house after many years can be an emotional strain to many and so it is when moving our school, with all the memories, traditions and familiarity that gives our subconscious, pride and comfort.

As an Historian, you will not be surprised to learn that I have ensured that we will be taking much of that heritage with us to our new school. The original School stone badge from the 1890 build has already been placed in the new entranceway; the war memorial, School Captain’s and Dux Boards will be placed in the Foyer next week; the Clan Shield will take centre place in our new trophy cabinet; and clan shields will take centre stage as one walks through the front door. The bell tower will be rebuilt during the external works. And, I have even looked at re-establishing the flag pole on the hill next to the School. I would appreciate anyone telling me of a local flag maker to make us a new school flag.

Much of my time spent since the last blog as been working with colleagues from the Council’s Special Project Team getting the new school ready. Indeed local boy and Project Manager David Logan, along with Shirley Johnstone have been camped out in my office for the last fortnight. Together we have spent most of our time working with Morrison’s to ensure all is going to plan and that our new school will be ready for us moving in at the end of this week. Of course, in the old school much of our last few weeks have also been spent packing.

The two extra closure days were most welcome as without them we would not have managed to pack away all the equipment and materials necessary to keep teaching the courses. A wee reminder to all that whilst we were busy packing, our pupils should have been busy studying on all the work we left for them on Show My Homework: true for the two days unpacking on the 16th and 17 April too. Also a wee reminder that we a running Easter Revision in Argyll College for the next two weeks, so please check FB for details.

As well as packing and planning for the new school I also squeezed in ‘a few’ interviews and appointed ten new staff:

Art and Design: Sheila Stewart

English: Beth Brooks Taylor and Tara Carmichael

History and Modern Studies: Catriona Morrison and Alison MacFarlane

PE: Calum Vardy

RMPS: David Duncan and Hanna Pyne

Science: Hanna Stevenson

Technology: Matt Walker

Our local community has helped share the message that Oban High School is a great school in an attractive and vibrant area. Helping share the social media news and adverts we place on Facebook, website, Twitter, You Tube and this Blog clearly works. Keep sharing folks!

I mentioned Oban High School being a great School. Where is the evidence? Well, you will know from our news and my blog that we have some international renown for our post 16 Education provision and that I have been asked to present to Head Teachers from across the country on issues such as Leadership, Curriculum, Working with Parents and Pastoral Care, so we must be doing well in these areas. However, added to that list is our exam success. Now some years are up and some are down and that is the natural order of statistics. No organisation can continually go up and as they do rise, so they must fall. I am pleased to note that last year was most certainly an “up year”.

Why mention last year’s results now, I hear you ask. Well! Every August, right across the country, the SQA course results are published, pupils get certificates through the door and schools sit and beaver away working out how well the school has done. The Press also like to compare schools’ pass rates and generate a league table. Fortunately the Scottish Government and Education Scotland have recognised that SQA course passes are only one way to measure a school’s success and they have a fairly new measurement framework called Insight. Insight measures all the qualifications provided by many different qualifications bodies, including SQA course awards; SQA Unit awards; National Progression Awards; Saltire Awards, amongst many others. All these awards are given an equity benchmark called the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). Almost all educational qualifications we use, from Doctorates and Masters to National 1s or SQA unit passes have a numerical value attributed to them. So, no matter the range of choice on offer in a school, (around 100 choices in OHS), a School gets credit for all their pupil successes.

Schools are also provided with what is referred to as a Virtual Comparator School as a more accurate way to measure how well a school is doing compared with other schools. The Insight programme basically finds 10 other pupils with similar backgrounds and similar characteristics to our own pupils, for every pupil on our roll. Subsequently if we had 200 pupils in S4, Insight would find 2000 similar pupils and measure if our pupils did more or less well with this Virtual School group. They also focus on what a pupil achieves when they leave school. So, no mater whether a pupil does 6 or 8 subjects in S4; or whether they did their courses over one or two years, it is how well did they do when they left school that is the true measure of success?

This is a great system of recognition especially for schools who see that providing a breadth of opportunity necessary to progress all career pathways is more important than just providing a traditional 20 subjects that everyone has to do to clock up Higher passes, percentages and tariff points. It has one flaw. The overall results are not entirely collated in August when everyone wants to know how a school got on. Indeed, the definitive set of school results are not published until February the following year, 6 months later. Hence why I mention results now, following my analysis of last year’s definitive results.

In short, our Positive Destination figures (the key benchmark of how well a School has provided for our pupils) remains above all comparative indicators, local and national; and our Literacy and Numeracy figures are above the Virtual Comparator at Levels 4 and 5.

We still have some work to do gaining more As in our Highers and obviously as with most schools we have departments who are performing below national averages… alongside departments surpassing the national averages.

Our total Insight Tariff points are also affected negatively because of our Pathways programme. Most of our S6 choose this vocational option and gain valuable work experience rather than taking say, another Higher or Advanced Higher which gains lots of Insight Tariff points. With 8o pupils dropping a subject to do more vocational experiences, it is clear that the narrow deficit could easily be overcome by the School dropping Pathways and forcing pupils back into an SQA course to clock up more points. That will never happen!

For those of you who are still interested in the old traditional measurement system I can report that by the time our pupils left school last Summer the following percentage pass rates were attained:

32% achieved 10 or more SCQF Level 3 Awards (Virtual Comparator, 22%)

32% achieved 10 or more SCQF Level 4 Awards (Virtual Comparator, 21%)

18% achieved 10 or more SCQF Level 5 Awards (Virtual Comparator, 10%)

1% achieved 10 or more SCQF Level 6 Awards (Virtual Comparator, 0%)

86% achieved 6 or more SCQF Level 3 Awards (Virtual Comparator, 87%)

83% achieved 6 or more SCQF Level 4 Awards (Virtual Comparator, 84%)

59% achieved 6 or more SCQF Level 5 Awards (Virtual Comparator, 57%)

28% achieved 6 or more SCQF Level 6 Awards (Virtual Comparator, 26%)

* The figures have been rounded.

* SCQF Levels 3, 4 and 5 includes SQA National 3, 4 and 5 passes and SCQF Level 6 includes SQA Highers.

* I chose to report at +10 as it is the maximum recorded and + 6 because that is the maximum we offered in S4. However from next year, we will be presenting 9 subjects as we are now certificating PE, RMPS and Scottish Studies in addition to English, Maths and the 4 unique pupil choices as we do presently.

All in all some very good results with areas of improvement as standard. Well done to all the pupils, staff and family members who helped ensure our successes.

I hope you all have a great two weeks holiday. See you in the new school.

What’s going on?

“What’s happening this week?”, How’s the new school getting on?”, “Where’s your blog?” Are three common questions I’ve had for the last couple of weeks. So what’s the answer, what has the Heidie been up to and how is the school getting along?

The new school is coming along well. The upper floors are almost complete and are being cleaned and sealed off ready for us moving in. We get the keys next Friday! The ground floor remains the main work area and where they store all the new furniture and equipment ready for dispersal across the school. I recommend going to the High School’s Facebook page or You Tube Channel and you can look at the recent video I posted which gives a better idea than I can in a paragraph. The You Tube channel also contains all the videos we have been posting recently about what our new SQA courses look like.

Year after year, teachers spend time writing pages worth of information to help pupils (and parents) learn about the courses on offer. Sadly, an investigation into the effectiveness of this form of communication proved the hundreds of hours spent were largely a waste of time and few actually read the big booklet. I think this is mainly to do with society’s move into the digital age and that we have become accustomed to short paragraphs, small videos and bullet point news delivered through packed social media platforms like FB, Twitter and Instagram. There is an irony here that the blog you are reading is the exact opposite of that.

As well as having lots of meetings about the new school covering issues such as furniture and fittings; the positioning of tills, paintings and art work; information boards; discussions around operational issues such as one way systems; what will happen on the first day; press enquiries; and pupil toilets, I also was given health and safety training to allow me to take staff around the school myself. This proved very useful as I toured the school again with the Head Janitor, Lynne, Head Cleaner, Caroline, and Canteen Manager, Donna, to start the operational planning necessary for running the school.

The issue of pupil toilets has come up a few times this week. I am astonished at how much attention this has received on social media and the repeated question about whether or not we have single sex toilets or unisex toilets in the new school. Personally, I would be quite content that all our toilets were unisex as clearly society is moving in this direction including many other schools, without issue. However, we are a large school and are able to offer both unisex toilets for those who do not mind and single sex toilets for those who do. We have unisex and single sex toilets in our current school, so this is not new to our pupils.

As well as being at a lot of meetings regarding the new school, I have also been chairing a number of meetings with my management team, particularly over course choices, prelims and forthcoming exams and exam study; and the government’s poverty equity funding.

The course choice process is very complex and takes time. We are currently in the first stage of this process. We issued a course choice and column structure form and are now discussing career choices and what qualifications and experiences pupils need to,pursue their chosen career. For the first time, we have invited parents into all the one to one meetings, many of which also benefit from having careers advisors from SDS present. I am pleased to note that these are going well and about 50% of our parents have been able to attend. Many others can’t because of work reasons and of course many of our pupils know exactly what they want to choose and parents are quite happy to leave it to them. We have about 800 pupils going through course choices, so we have a way to go yet.

The second stage of the process is to ensure that from the courses chosen, we have enough teachers to run the popular courses and to re-interview pupils for courses that will not run because of lack of interest. Every year, pupil choices change slightly. One year we may need more History teachers; another more Technical teachers; another more college courses. Consequently, we offer as many courses as we can and run the ones the majority of pupils wish to do. We offer just under 100 courses, some are only available to S6 granted. We do not have the staff to run them all at one time. I believe the average school offers closer to 30 odd choices and in a few high attaining schools they only offer around 20 courses. The specialisation in a few subjects leads to high academic pass rates and a security of staffing. However on the other hand pupils do not have the same level of choice as we offer and they are forced to take a limited number of subjects they do not want to do, in far greater numbers than we face. There is no right or wrong system, it depends on the desires of that community.

Regardless of whether a school offers 20 or 100 courses, no school can promise every pupil an exact match of subjects they “want” to do in a single year. They should, and we do, promise to provide what every pupil “needs” to get into a career of their choosing. One aspect to the changing nature of course options I have noticed over the last couple of years is commonality of subject patterns. A decade ago, a common choice of five courses may have been English, Maths, History, Modern Studies and Music. Now, we are just a likely to find the same numbers interested in English, Maths, Art, Drama and Hairdressing or Computing, Games Design and Graphic Communication etc. The introduction of so many new subjects has totally upset our historical sense of what is “the norm”. This is a good thing because now our pupils are choosing subjects they hope will help in particular careers and that they enjoy, rather than being stuck in a mindset or following historical mantra like: “You need three Sciences.”; “You MUST take a language.”; “You need a broad range of subjects.”; PE, Art and Drama don’t count as Highers at University.”. None of these are entirely true and pupils should seek the views of their Guidance teacher, from the careers advisors and use sites like My World of Work to help dispel the myths peddled by parents from my generation and find out how careers have changed in the 21st Century. Incidentally, universities do not insist on Biology, Chemistry and Physics for any one course and when they mention 3 Sciences, Maths counts as one. PE, Art and Drama are equally valued as Highers, though be careful some universities only let you have one such subject in your first five. Some courses in some universities want you to have a language, some insist on Nat 5 Maths, even for English based courses and some demand Higher English whilst others don’t. Read the Prospectuses and entry requirements, they are all different!

I also mentioned Prelims and exams. The Prelims have gone well and the PTs are predicting an increased pass rate compared to last year for many of our courses. Given last years results proved to be our most successful over the last 3-4 years, with higher levels of numeracy and literacy than the national averages and a positive destination percentage standing at 97%, higher than the national, regional and schools comparator averages, then I am hopeful we will report another successful set of results in August.

I should mention that the annual publication of results in August only includes some of our results. Because we now offer so many different subjects, using different awarding bodies and have college and university partners who deliver courses on our behalf, all the results do not get published in August. The only accurate results are to be found at the end of February when the definitive set of results are published by the Government’s Insight team. The “National Dashboard” provides all the school’s final results for all the pupils who left school that year and provides comparison with national averages and a virtual comparator school. This is published on Parentzone, though I shall send it to parents myself before the break. Our school is continuing to do well I am pleased to report. Of course not all pupils have done well in the Prelims and not all subjects have posted the level of progress we wish. PTs have been tasked with engaging with pupils and their parents over work ethics and attendance (particularly S6) and have been to asked to work with their staff to develop additional support measures to help those in danger of either failing a course or missing out on a higher grade if that is what they need for university or employment opportunities.

One of these measures is the provision of Easter Revision classes. These will be held in Argyll College because we will be busy moving schools over the holiday. I am extremely grateful to Denise and Fraser for this offer. These classes have not been offered just because we have exceptional closure days because of the move. We have offered these for the last few years and last year we saw 260 pupils benefit by attending extra classes. I am disappointed that more pupils do not attend. The extra tuition available just before the exams is really invaluable and could make all the difference to a pass or higher grade, if only they could seek the support they need. Of course some will be unable to attend because they are on a family holiday and hopefully they will still squeeze in some revision whilst away. I have had a few complaints from parents that we are not running this subject or that. Our teachers are on holiday and have their own family commitments. Those attending are volunteering to give up their holidays to help their pupils if they can. I very much appreciate the extra time they are providing.

Every year at this time I take the opportunity to go and visit as many of the P7s I can, in their own schools. I take a Guidance teacher with me. The purpose of these visits is to let them meet their new Head Teacher; to hear about how important a role the Guidance teacher plays; and to give them an idea of what the high school is all about and answer all their many questions, thus putting their fears to rest hopefully. We also return and do a similar presentation to parents and pupils at the end of the school day. In the last couple of weeks I have met many lovely pupils from Easdale; Kilninver; Luing; Park; Rockfield; St’ Columba’s; Taynuilt; Lochnell; Dunbeg and Dalmally. With 19 Partner Primary schools, we still have a few to go to.

I am sure that many of you saw the video I posted of the Oban: A University Town’s Open Day. It was a great success and around 300 people visited the Corran Halls to listen to what the higher education aspirations are for the town. Primary pupils got to hear about future careers; and Ballet West and our own School of Traditional Music pupils provided the entertainment. I have since attended the follow up meeting of the OAUT Steering Group and can confirm that the consultation regarding the new logo will be to our pupils liking following over 500 of them taking part in the process. The discussions for the forthcoming year will now all focus on what courses to make available across all the participating institutions, OHS included, and over the provision of facilities for the new students we hope to attract.

Another visit I took out of school was to Atlantis Leisure with a small group of pupils interested in the protecting the environment. Stirred on by the recent visit we had to the school by Sunnyside Primary, campaigning to ban plastic straws our pupils have began a campaign entitled #naestrawoban. They are currently encouraging local businesses to recognise the harmful environmental issues around plastic and I have to say they met a very positive and warm welcome from Michael and Euan. The team are going to award glass trophies of congratulation to all those local businesses who support their campaign.

Of course straws are only one item of plastic. The next step is to target plastic bottles. All pupils will be encouraged to stop buying an endless amount of plastic bottles of water and to consider having one water bottle they top up from the new water fountains in school. This seems to have jumped to the top of the agenda nationally following the media reports of trace plastics in our bodies, possibly from the recent phenomena of drinking much more water from bottles. It should be noted there is no definitive proof of this and an international study is on-going. However our pupils naturally show concern when such stories feature in the national media. Mrs Wilson has kindly agreed to take on Eco Schools as her whole school management responsibility and will now help our youngsters make our school community more eco friendly.

Another group that involves the “pupil voice” I chair has been looking at how we seek pupil views both around the learning experience in the classroom and across whole school issues. For many years I have have put great store into Pupil Forums. Whether we wish to change the curriculum, design the new school or that someone has an idea that would affect many of our pupils, we run smaller focus groups, usually three or four groups of about 30 in each. Whatever the idea muted we explain the initial proposal to the group, they ask questions, then we get an informed response which we use to develop the idea. We rarely use a tick box survey these days as they do not offer the ability to tease out exactly what the pupils think through discussion.

The volunteer staff on this pupil voice group have already met with PTs to evaluate how the departments seek to gather the views of pupils in lessons, at the end of units and at the end of the year. The group has also carried out research into how other schools across the country use pupil feedback to inform the classroom teacher’s practice or whole school plans. A couple of schools in particular have been targeted for further investigation and two members of staff will visit these schools for a day to see what we could learn from their operations.

OHS already has a good reputation for effective use of pupils views, likely because of the way in which we gather the information from the pupil forums rather than votes and because of the numerous times we engage in the seeking of views. Of course, many pupils (and staff) will still say their views are not heard. All leaders are faced with the issue that one has to make a choice between competing ideas and when one group’s ideas are not taken forward the common cry is “I wasn’t listened to”.

You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

I am due to give a presentation on how we consult and engage with pupils to a team of Norwegian Head Teachers in May. I am very lucky that I shall be able to use the national research of my enthusiastic staff to add to what we do here in Oban.

Staffing remains a concern to me at this time. I have previously mentioned how few applicants rural school receive for the jobs we advertise, despite the financial and accommodation enhancement packages we offer. There are just so few teachers available and willing to go to rural areas, especially with the increased number of jobs appearing in the central belt following the Government’s poverty equity funding flowing into schools in the cities. It is a good initiative and this is an observation not a criticism. Of course even the PEF funding can’t knit teachers and nationally, even in the cities, it is difficult to get Technical, Maths, Science and Home Economics teachers.

I have good news to report. Last week I was able to interview and appoint a new PE teacher. My thanks to Gillian Carney, HT of Park Primary for sitting on the panel. As our secondary PE staff also deliver PE in the local primaries it’s important I get advice from a more qualified HT than I in this respect. The close working between the High School and many of our Primary partners ensures that our youngsters really benefit from a much better transition between the sectors. Our staff, working with Primary staff to deliver PE is a great example how younger pupils get used to seeing more teachers, experience discreet specialist teachers and it allows for a more seamless curricular transition. The Head Teacher Advisory Group led by our Head of Education, Anne Paterson, are considering this in other subjects like Languages and Music as well. A move welcomed by many of my colleagues.

I would also like to say congratulations to Aileen Jackson, who has become the Principal Teacher for Raising Attainment. This new role will involve working with all school managers to gather data about all our pupils across the school and she will work with Guidance and Support and/or subject PTs to work on strategies to increase the success of our pupils. A lot of her time will be spent using the data to have discussions with subject PTs on successful learning and teaching strategies that could be employed for particular youngsters. The post also calls for the establishment of small group work where some pupils or groups of pupils find difficulty in engaging or achieving in particular areas. Finally, as well as under-performance arising because of learning and teaching needs, much of it is down to social and emotional barriers both in school and at home and Aileen will work with Guidance staff and to support families where we can. This is an exciting new role and I am sure Aileen will make a real success of it. Aileen will still teach some English classes. I should now say well done to Kerri Stewart who has been promoted to the post of Principal Teacher of English. Kerri is a very experienced teacher whom I hold in high regard and will do very well indeed. So, with three new positions filled where do we stand with the other vacancies?

Before I begin, I have to say a huge thank you to Anne Paterson and Anne-Margaret Houston for their support and speed in dealing with our advert requests. Normally, we would not be able to get adverts out this early – most schools don’t advertise until after Easter, even May, when they know if they will get Probationers or not. We along with some others are advertising as early as nationally permitted to try and get the best candidates. As already mentioned it is difficult to get applicants even after offering relocation expenses, staff accommodation, a brilliant new school and a beautiful vibrant community to live and work. The closing date for most of our jobs was on Friday. We still only received the following number of applicants.

Art, 5

Business (re-advert), no applicants.

English, 3

French, 4

History and Modern Studies, 9

Maths, 1

Music, 1

RME, 8

Science (re-advert), 2

Technology (re-advert), 1

These vacancies have arisen because of three members of staff moving onto promoted posts; three retirements; one maternity cover; two relocating nearer to their homes and one career change. The Technology post is currently being filled by a temporary member of staff whom I rate very highly, so that is not a concern. I also have an additional Technology probationer lined up for August to support that area.

Although we do not have any applicants for Business Studies, I have already lined up a probationer for August to ensure these classes can still run with a qualified teacher. The two probationers I mentioned are local graduates who have shown an interest in becoming teachers and thanks to the introduction of the new secondary teacher training course run by Argyll College we are able to support local talent in pursuing their new careers and thus ensure we have qualified teachers, especially for our more difficult to fill posts. I am absolutely positive that we will get some very good teachers from these interviews and I’ll let you know how we get on in my next Blog.

I am sure you will be aware that I could mention other work I have been involved in over the last couple of weeks. However, I’m not sure you wish to learn all about how I taught Volksgemeinschaft to the Advanced Higher History class or about my conversations about percentage attendance rates and the success of our new attendance strategy at the end of a long blog anyway.

Maybe next time. Remember, my blog is merely to give an idea of what a Heidie does in a typical high School whilst mentioning what’s going on nationally along the way.

The title of this blog is “What’s going on?”. If you really want to know what is going on in OHS and not just from Sunday morning casual observations in my Blog, then sign up to Facebook, Twitter and our You Tube Channel for almost daily updates and/or look at the school website. Of course for parents, we also send letters by email, short text reminders and make calls home where required. And, most importantly of all we have full time Guidance teachers and willing staff who will take your calls (when they are not teaching) and answer your questions personally.