My last Blog focused on recognising the efforts and commitment of our staff and pupils in organising and participating in a week long act of remembrance for all those who gave their lives in war through My Time activities and assemblies; culminating last Friday with our very moving final remembrance service recognising the end of the Great War in 1918. However, our commitment to recognising the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1 did not end there and many of our staff and pupils attended the main Armistice service at the Oban War Memorial, where Angus and Katie, our School Captains, represented our school and marked our respect by laying a wreath.
Although the war ended at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the Armistice agreement was actually signed at 6 a.m. To mark this occasion and as part of the national Battles Over event, Pipers in countries all over the world began the day with a Lament at 6 a.m. Buglers then played Last Post at 6.55 p.m, marking the end of the day and signalling fires to be lit in 100 cities across the UK. I was proud to represent both our school and town by playing Last Post at the war memorial on the esplanade on Sunday evening as the last act of Remembrance this year.
It was back down to the central belt again early on Monday morning to attend a meeting at Larkhall Academy where I was welcomed by Andy Smith, the newly appointed but very talented and experienced Head Teacher. Andy was previously Head Teacher at Carluke High School and was elected to the position of President of School Leaders Scotland in 2015. I was also privileged to spend a week in Norway with Andy as part the Scottish College of Educational Leadership’s (SCEL) Excellence in Headship international exchange programme. (That was a mouthful, I agree). Whether receiving advice from the past President; sharing views on new experiences as part of the exchange; or hearing what is going on in Larkhall, I can always be sure that I will leave Andy being that little bit wiser. And that is the whole point of any coming together of Head Teachers, whether in Norway, Larkhall or Oban… and it is the whole point of the BOCSH Head Teacher meeting I attended on Monday.
No, we were not there to discuss kitchen appliances. BOCSH stands for Building Our Curriculum Self Help group. It was set up following the establishment of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) when it became clear the diversity of opportunity available to schools through CfE was great for those HTs with experience but a real challenge for many others and their communities. By gathering the most experienced Head Teachers together, the aim was to both collate and share good practice across all schools to offer professional learning opportunities to other schools, whilst also acting as a conduit of HT views to Education Scotland and the Scottish Government. This select group is limited to 20 Head Teachers taken from Local Authorities across Scotland.
This particular meeting focused on the development of the next professional learning conference which will be open to all schools. Last year I gave a short presentation on Post 16 Learning; whilst others gave presentations on Tracking, Attainment, Leadership… there were 9 presentations in total. At the end of the conference, schools were given the opportunity to go and spend a day in any school which led a presentation so they could get more detailed advice on how to take an area of interest forward. Many HTs or their DHTs came to Oban over three days last spring. I have to say that we learned just as much from our visitors as they likely did from us. Sharing good practice from people actually doing the same role in a school is the most valuable type of experience and training available.
Following similar previous discussions with fellow HTs some time ago I decided that we should try and further develop our parental engagement strategy and look to help parents, to help their children with their learning. Some schools have been offering after school opportunities for parents and their children to come into school and to learn about IT, crafts, food, literacy and numeracy etc. Dunoon Grammar have a very successful model. Other schools in the central belt have sought to go out into the communities to provide “Help your Kid” support programmes. Following discussions with our own Parent Council, we decided to follow the Outreach model.
So, after my meeting in Larkhall I rushed back up the road so that I could attend the first of our new family Outreach sessions in Argyll College, led by Debbie Gillies. The purpose of our Outreach programme is to help support children and families with their learning. Children can come themselves and get help with their homework. Maybe they just need access to an iPad or laptop. They can also come along with their parents or carers. We would like to offer Homework, literacy, Numeracy and IT support to anyone who would like help in these areas. However, to make the evening a wee bit more enticing, Debbie will also be running themed classes. The first of these, between now and Christmas, centres around craft skills and making Christmas decorations. If there are any locals who want to come along with or without your kids, get help with IT; maybe get an explanation and a wee hand with some aspect of numeracy or literacy; or if you just want to come and learn how to make Christmas decorations, please come along. You will be very welcome. We provide everything. There’s no charge.
Tuesday began by welcoming our pupils to school, followed by many discussions on late-coming. This is proving to be an issue with around 40 to 50 pupils arriving late each day on average. We have employed extra staff to analyse the attainment statistics; call home each day with concerns; hold discussions with pupils and parents; and even to go out to pupils’ houses to bring them into school. This latter strategy seems to work but the texts home and the wee chats although having some impact are still not bringing the number of “lates” down. We don’t count lates due to transport issues.
This problem is not one unique to Oban High School. Again, learning from my colleagues in other schools around Scotland, there remains an issue with attendance in most schools. I believe, based on my conversations with pupils, that there are two main reason for this. Firstly, huge numbers of our pupils are working in local businesses, many work numerous shifts and long hours. However, I believe that it is a good thing that pupils take on employment. As my consistent blog readers and my school community are well aware, I view the purpose of school to prepare youngsters for the world of work: so, part-time work itself helps prepare them for life and work after school.
The tiredness leading to lateness issue is not solely a direct consequence of work but of pupils not finding a sensible balance between work, school and social life. This requirement to balance all three is regularly discussed in PSEd classes and with pupils and parents of those who haven’t found the balance and with pupils whose health is being severely affected. I am pleased by the number of employers like John Horne in the Royal and Alex Needham at the Waterfront, amongst others, who have a policy of ensuring there is a sensible limit on the hours pupils work and ensure that the pupils finish no later than 10 pm. They also follow the law and send in their children’s work permits for those under 16; a law that requires the parent, employer, School and Council to sign off an under 16s right to work.
If there are pupils or parents reading this who are aware of pupils being forced to work long hours or without legal permits, please call the school so we can work together to ensure the health and welfare of our children.
The second cause is tiredness caused by pupils, particularly younger pupils, using electronic devices – phone, tablets, play stations, X-boxes – into the small hours of the night. “Bah humbug”, “nanny state”, “interfering” are all words and phrases thrown back at schools who raise this as a concern by some parents: but also met with the sad nods of agreement by most others. It is not easy being a parent, it is not easy enforcing rules, it is not easy facing the teenage tantrums that come at the best of times, far less when one has to impose a sanction, like removing a device when the use of that device is keeping a youngster awake until 4 am, leading to sleep deprivation, lateness for school, relationship difficulties throughout the day with teachers and peers, caused by their bad temper, caused by a lack of sleep. A vicious cycle!
The not so easy answer is for parents, when confronted with this problem, is to take the short term hassle of ensuring youngsters lose the right to using devices in the small hours of the morning because they can’t cope with normal daylight life otherwise. By doing so, the longer term bonus is less tired, less argumentative, less in-trouble children. Schools will gladly support parents in this strategy by reinforcing the sense in the parents decision and linking it to the health education part of the solution. As a parent of teenagers, I know this is easier said than done… it is still the only solution.
So, back to my week. Following the daily welcome to the school and then along to watch the Diarmid assembly, with its focus on Anti-bullying week, I met with Fiona and Jo, two producers from the BBC. I have been in discussion with the BBC for the last month or so over a proposal for them to run a year long documentary on Oban High School. The benefits of taking part in such a documentary is that it would showcase all the talent we have in our school and perhaps send out a beacon to teachers across the country that Oban High School is a great place to work and that Oban and Argyll is a wonderful place to live; especially to raise a family. Such a documentary may even lead to more families looking to relocate to our wonderful part of the country. The downside to taking part and the concern raised by most, is that the documentary may hone in on isolated incidents of a dramatic nature and portray them as being the norm, thereby mis-representing the school community. Educating Essex with all it showed about urban school life has certainly sent shivers down the spine of any school approached with such an offer.
One of my staff, bemused with the possibility asked the other day: “Why do they want to film us?” Those gathered around looked incredulous as if to say “Seriously!”
Oban High School is full of talented children and staff with lots to be proud of. Our academic success at levels ranging from SCQF Level 1 through the large number of International Baccalaureates across 95 different academic and vocational options is testament to our commitment to get the best possible qualifications for all: as is the provision of one of the largest support departments in the country and one of the few schools to offer full time pastoral support to ensure we nurture and develop our youngsters social, emotional and vocations skills and talents. More than a few schools have a specialist school within a school. We have three: School of Traditional Music; School of Dance, linked to an Internationally acclaimed dance school, Ballet West; and a School of Rugby, sponsored by the SRU itself.
Our partnership working with other agencies is first class and boasts a level of commitment by our local partners not seen in significant number in other Scottish schools. We have an active and committed Parent Council; supportive local Councillors; Argyll College, Skills Development Scotland, local Health Workers, and local Police Community Engagement liaison are in the school every day; and local businesses and local organisations like Community Learning, Bid4Oban, H20, the Rotary Club, Chaplaincy Team, Youth Cafe, Atlantis etc involved weekly or at least monthly.
The number of pupils leaving our school going on to a Positive Destination (work, university, college etc.) is higher than all comparative figures and our trophy cabinet boasts huge sporting, music and civic successes achieved by both pupils and staff – nationally and internationally. Meanwhile hundreds of certificates drop into the mailboxes of pupils and parents each term recognising a huge range of achievement across many areas of interest. Such recognition leads to a generally positive ethos across the whole community.
Finally, our new school is one of the most modern schools in the country and set in one of the most beautiful parts of the world.
“Why wouldn’t the BBC want to film here?” was the answer.
Following my session with the BBC I had to travel to the Council HQ in Kilmory Castle, Lochgilphead to meet with the Director of Community Services, which includes Education, Douglas Hendry, for an update meeting on my school and over the Education Budget, as I Chair the Education Budget Group.
Then it was back to Oban to attend the second of our Outreach sessions at the Soroba Community Centre and to make sure Debbie was well supported in case of huge numbers. Debbie was managing just fine on her own as no one managed along that evening, so I got the chance to blether about … strategies to increase uptake.
Wednesday began with a Board of Studies meeting. Our Board of Studies is the title attached to a meeting of all PTs and DHTs. The meeting focused on issues raising attainment, led by Aileen Jackson. However, I also led a separate section on the subject of consistency. I reinforced a message to all managers to be passed to all staff, that we expect all our pupils; and all our staff to follow School rules. Pupils are expected to attend school, on time, with kit, in uniform and to show respect or themselves and others: staff are expected to welcome pupils to their class, start the lesson promptly, take accurate registers, deliver engaging, differentiated, relevant lessons to all, whilst managing behaviour, and to dismiss their class calmly ready for their next lesson.
Next up was a finance meeting to go through all the school accounts. This happens each month and every year. The greater difficulty for the last couple of years relates to the extraordinary spending required because we are building a brand new school. I am pleased to say, we’re not skint yet and we have everything we need at the moment.
The rest of Wednesday and indeed most of Thursday was spent either teaching my Advanced Higher History class, meeting DHTs and PTs with regard to progress with their remits or having a look into classes, making sure all is well.
The week finished on a high but with a tinge of sadness. Most of the morning was spent preparing for Children in Need in the afternoon, although I also met with Margaret and Colin from Skills Development Scotland to discuss Foundation Apprenticeships. This is an area that we are keen to explore further with an aim to deliver Apprenticeships in Business, Engineering and Childcare, with the support of local businesses, Argyll College and Argyll and Bute Council.
The sad part of the day came in three parts. An emotional farewell Ossian Assembly to Thomas McCulloch, PT Guidance / PE Teacher as he moves to Ayrshire to take up a new post as Head of PE; then there was the videos and speeches at the staff coffee morning; and finally when I shook his hand for the last time at the end of the day. Thomas is always positive; always eager to help; never has a harsh word for or about anyone; and is simply one of the nicest people I have ever met. I wish him and his family, Melody and Lucy all the very best.
The week culminated in a fantastic Children in Need event when I saw our whole community come together in the afternoon to take part in a variety of staged events in our Atrium; more active events across our PE facilities but also more sedentary opportunities in a variety of classrooms. The fashion show was, well… not very fashionable; the leg waxing looked painful and I disappeared sharply when eyes were on my legs a bit too long; the roller disco looked dangerous; the dance classes looked fun; the cake events looked tasty… the list goes on. It was great fun, everybody enjoyed themselves and more to the point we raised money for charity.
Well done to all the staff and senior pupils who put so much time and effort into ensuring it was packed with events, was lots of fun and very worthwhile.
A great way to end another busy week.
p.s I made a wee video showing much of the afternoon’s activities which you can watch on Facebook.