So, what have I been up to in the last fortnight?
Well I spent Saturday morning advertising for new staff. In addition to the adverts recently placed for Science, PE and Admin staff, I am now looking for teachers of Art, Music, English, Maths, RE, Business, Languages and Technical. Here’s the link and introduction I gave to all these. Feel free to share to as many people as possible so we have as great a pool of candidates to choose from as possible.
Oban High School is a large, successful, innovative and inspirational school where pastoral care, vocational accomplishment and academic attainment are all priorities; consequently the Positive Destinations for our young people are excellent. Set in an area of outstanding natural beauty but within easy reach of Glasgow, as well as the Highlands and Islands, we are ideally placed for those who like a rural lifestyle but still want access to a major city. We have a regular train and ferry service as well as an airport. We offer successful candidates a comprehensive support package including staff accommodation to help you settle, on-going professional development opportunities tailored to the individual and are proud of our leadership programme which has allowed many of our staff to go on to become Principal Teachers, Deputes and Head Teachers. Please look at both our website and Facebook page to get a feel of what it would be like to work in such a fantastic, vibrant and friendly school community.
I should have also mentioned that we are moving into a state of the art brand new school with what I have been told has the best indoor PE facilities of any school in the UK and the best Performing Arts facilities of any school in Scotland. It’s funny how you can miss the large things on your doorstep.
Well that was my most recent job but if I jump back a bit to when we came back from our mid term break (which was only ten days ago, time flies!) then I would recall what I believe has been our most well received In Service days for some time. Why? Perhaps because of the variety, the balance between using our own staff and external trainers and/or because we focused on issues our staff really needed and wanted to learn more about.
The days began with an informative session led by David Logan, the Project Manager for our new school build. We are getting close to moving and he and his colleagues had some up to date news regarding our move. Next up was a training session for all the teachers on how to use our new Promethium Smart Boards. Basically huge TV screens that we link to our iPads – a far cry from the old Blackboards and chalk I first used as a fresh faced young teacher. The technology we use today to teach our lessons was never imagined 20 years ago.
As well as learning to use the hardware, my Depute responsible for IT, Iain Fulton, ran a session on how to use a new App we are rolling out to all staff, “Evidence for Learning”. This App allows staff to use their iPads to capture the work of pupils in photos and videos, which is great for sending evidence to the SQA and for keeping records of pupil progress. I am hopeful that when we get used to gathering evidence in the App we will progress quickly to using the share with parents facility. As a parent myself I would far rather receive regular emails showing me the quality of my children’s work than merely get a written paragraph once a year. Granted we have moved to almost monthly tracking reports in recent years.
Technology is a great tool when it works and when people use it properly. Sometimes the technology doesn’t work and sometimes it fails because of human error. Disappointingly, I had to address both issues with regard to our on-line registration processes this week and change the way we deal with taking registers and notifying parents. We have a legal requirement to take a register in the morning and in the afternoon. We are also required to notify parents daily if their child has either not come to school or has left without permission. This can be done by letter but most schools use texts – or phone calls if the school is small enough. We use texts.
The difficultly with accurate registers in a large vibrant school comes from a combination of parents who forget to tell us their child is not coming to school or needs to leave during the day; from teachers who forget to register their pupils at the start of lessons or fail to mark them late, giving the impression they are missing; and of course from the many teenagers who choose to truant for the day or just from a class they don’t like. Schools and teenagers are all alike.
However, it was clear to me that we need to make more use of the technology and so together with my Depute and excellent receptionist Louise I set up a system to ensure we notify parents (three times a day) when we are unaware of why their child is not in school or is not in a class they should be. Teething problems include teachers marking pupils absent despite them sitting in front of the teacher (an irritation for parents); parents not replying to our texts home asking where their children are (an irritation to teachers); and teenagers doing what they often do and not worrying about such things and just coming and going without signing in and out causing both parents and teachers to be irritated. We shall keep working on the issues but to be honest I would rather we always send the texts home in an effort to ensure teachers and parents are aware of when the youngsters are not in classes. Better a mistake saying we are worried where they are and find them, than not send a text and find they are missing and we didn’t try and track them down. I’m positive the system will continue to improve.
Another In-Service training session was delivered by my Depute, Kevin Champion, on the subject of Inter-disciplinary Learning (IDL). Secondary schools are good at teaching subject specific content across a whole range of courses like English, Maths, History, Science etc. However, we do not do enough to deliver lessons which teach subjects and issues across the subjects: teaching in context. I mentioned previously that we have been reviewing the curriculum in the school and one of the changes to be implemented in the new S1 and S2 curriculum shall be the introduction of two periods a week of IDL. Kevin is currently working with staff on agreeing themes and content for these new courses. I always find it fascinating how we can be very good at such initiatives, as we were with IDL about 7-8 years ago, and then be distracted and redirected to other priorities, only to return full circle.
Much of this distraction and redirection comes from the ebbing and flowing of guidance from Education Scotland. Although I have to say in all honestly that I appreciate all the support we get from them, it does not take away the fact that there is a huge number of initiatives and of suggested good practice that they promote. The sheer volume of such guidance can cloud much of the focus a school needs and no matter how much the HMIe say we need to do a few things well, they always measure as on whether we can do many things well or not, so we always try too much, hence the workload issues in schools.
Assessment and moderation is a current countrywide theme and we have been persistently involved in delivering such training to staff for over a year now thanks to the sterling efforts of our in-house Assessment and Moderation Facilitators, Fiona Wilson and Kirsteen Binnie, supported by Guidance from the Authority team. I am always very pleased to see my staff step up to the mark and take on leadership opportunities when they arise; and I am aware that my staff really appreciate having their peers provide the support they need on a regular and on-going basis, rather than the external and expensive one day experts that schools used to use all the time. There is of course still a need for such experts where the expertise does not already exist in schools.
I have also been supporting and encouraging staff to make use of all the new IT we provided through helping them prepare videos for pupils and parents on what subject courses are all about. Now that we have entered the Course Options stage of the year, we would normally produce large booklets listing what is in the courses, what skills can be learned and what a pupil could do with a qualification in that subject in the future. Few people read these tomes I believe. So, similar to the Learning Live and Spark Videos I have been posting, all subject areas were charged with creating information videos. Thomas McCulloch has made an excellent job of helping all the PTs deliver on this task and Iain Fulton has loaded them all on the website under our new Learner Journey section; a great site for pupils and parents to learn about what one needs to become a Vet, teacher, nurse, joiner etc. Such information, supported by evidence from universities and SDS help introduce our communities to new qualifications, new occupations and dispel the myths parents often have: the most common being you need three Sciences to get into university; PE and Drama don’t count as ‘real’ subjects; and you always need a foreign language. Whilst there may have been some truth in these statements in a few universities 30 years ago, it’s all nonsense now.
Universities are generally looking for as high a number of A passes as a student can manage, ideally from one sitting. However every course in every university has different aspirations and one university may insist on 4 As and a B and another 3 Bs and a C for the exact same course. Once this is achieved they want a personal statement that reflects a pupils breath of experience showing they have resilience, independence and can work with others. They like breadth of experience, knowledge and skills on the whole.
And of course, most youngsters do not go to university so it is important to note that employers whilst using basic entrance requirements like an insistence on having Higher English and National 5 Maths are much more interested in the skills and experiences our youngsters have accumulated during their school years.
Some of you may be aware I have not always been a teacher and held leadership/managerial positions in the Civil Service, service Industry and in retail before entering teaching. In my time as a manager I can safely say that when recruiting I was much more concerned about how a potential employee came across as a person and whether they were keen to learn and had demonstrated this through their prior experience, than I was in the number of qualifications they had. Strength of character cannot be taught, knowledge and skills can.
I am so pleased that a Curriculum for Excellence and the Government’s Developing the Young Workforce agenda places skills development at the heart of what we are trying to achieve and they recognise this needs to be nurtured in primary schools and early secondary, rather than wait until the pupils are about to leave secondary school as used to be the case.
Which reminds me of another job I have to do during February and March. Oban High School has 19 partner primaries across what is one of the largest geographical catchment areas in Scotland. Every year at this time, I start to tour as many of the Primary schools as my diary permits. I really enjoy visiting our primary pupils and discussing with the P7s in particular what Oban High School has to offer and describing life in our school. I do this along with my Guidance teachers in an effort to answer all their questions and try and put their minds at rest that coming to high School is not scary but enjoyable and that we will look after them as well as help them to develop all the important skills mentioned earlier.
I also offer evening sessions for parents where we go over the same issues as we did with the pupils in their classes. These sessions are followed up by more visits by pupils to our school if they need it but with everyone again in June. More on that experience in another blog no doubt.
As well as leading my own school and taking the time to visit our friends in the primaries I have also been involved a few leadership meetings last week. First on the agenda was attending the HT Advisory Group. This group was set up by Anne Paterson, the Head of Education about a year ago and is really beginning to take shape now. It allows for Head Teachers from across Argyll and Bute to come together to share our knowledge and experience with the Head of Education in an effort to produce management decisions that are in the best interests of all our pupils across the Local Authority. We discuss ideas to improve learning and teaching; staff development; how to deal with budgetary and staffing issues; and share individual experiences each have gained from our travels across the country, bringing together the most up to date initiatives and thinking with regard to all aspects of education.
I also met with the Self-evaluation Group this week to look at our continuing aims for the new School Improvement Plan. Of course before writing a new plan we do need to evidence our aims and they group agreed to split into two for the next five weeks, with one group beginning to explore developments in our staff observation policy; whilst the other has a focus on improving the level and quality of our pupil engagement in the learning process. Again, I am very pleased by the leadership shown by many of my staff in taking multiple ideas forward within this group. No wonder so many of our staff go on to get promotions.
I am leading the pupil engagement strand of this group but we already have a high degree of such activity and I was reminded of this on Friday when we gathered together almost 100 pupils to work through a questionnaire on five key areas in the school: Feeling of inclusion and attendance issues; participation in school activities; active engagement in lessons / learning; and how to increase attainment.
Most of the meetings I have been involved in over the last ten days however have focused on tracking pupil performance, given the Prelims have just finished and what we need to do to set up further support. This will come in the form of further weekly study support, though sadly numbers have already dropped again – if only pupils would keep going every week, their grades would rise in the final exams! There will also be further Easter Revision thanks to the extra money we got from the Council for this purpose.
I have also been advised that we will receive more Pupil Equity Funding money from the Scottish Government next session. This year we spent the money on employing a Youth Development Worker and an Educational Psychologist to help with supporting and nurturing our youngsters. We also used the money to supplement our breakfast Club (which was also funded by D&K Lafferty’s generous support); our homework club; and literacy and numeracy programmes. I am currently gathering evidence to determine the success of these initiatives in closing the poverty related attainment gap for which the funding was to be used for.
I mentioned D&K Lafferty being a kind contributor to our school. We have a few. Another is the Argyllshire Gathering who both pay a large contribution to the Piping tuition in the area and provide us with all the marques (and a solid silver Heavies trophy) for our annual Highland Games. Much of the finance for this generosity comes from the profits from the Oban Games, which is why I am a keen and willing member of the Games Committee which met this week. At that meeting we discussed increasing the involvement of our Traditional School of Music and School of Dance pupils at the Games this year so that we can give them another chance to show off their fantastic talents to an international audience.
Finally in my wee story of what a Heidie gets up to each week, it was back to the chalk face and I have had my head back in the text books trying to keep one step ahead of all my clever Advanced Higher History pupils. So with that in mind, I better get back to reading, “Germany: 1866-1945 by Gordon A. Craig. A little light reading before bed.