#beamazing, #ohsmakeseverydayheroes

I can’t believe that five and a half thousand folk have read my blog since January. Like me, you must have too much time on your hands on rainy Sunday afternoons. If you don’t mind, just for once, I’m going to cheat a little and combine this blog with the welcome letter I shall send to all parents in the morning. The info within will still serve the purpose of my blog which is to let those interested see a little of what a Heidie gets up to; whilst also allowing me to share my views on current educational matters along the way. It’s a personal blog, the views are all my own but of course it’s about being a Heidie so there’s stuff about the schools I lead.

For those of you who had a holiday, I hope you all had a lovely time. Of course many of you are not teachers and so you may not have had a holiday yet and are still to jet off into the sun (in which case I am unjustifiably jealous).

There’s a huge misconception that schools close down for six weeks and that all teachers (and Heidies) get six weeks holiday. They don’t. Large schools like Oban High stay open throughout the period as we let out our facilities, have maintenance matters to attend to and on-going IT and Office work that needs to carry on through the period. Tiree High and Primary schools were also very busy as work continued to install new IT, corridor paneling, redecoration and the establishment of a new fitness suite.

So, I must begin with my thanks to all the staff and community partners who continued to work through the holiday period, supporting our community in a variety of ways: Office staff, Technicians, Janitors, teachers; and sports development staff were all in making sure the school was in good shape for us coming back and that our youngsters had events to attend, that they received pastoral and career support and in the case of the Oban Summer Sensations staff, ensuring the new S1s had the opportunity to enjoy bonding together before they joined their new classmates from across all 19 of our partner primaries last Thursday.

I would be also remiss not to mention all my colleagues in the Education Department, Special Projects Team; Legal Services and HR, all of whom work all year round and support Heidies like me, even in the holidays. Thank you.

In Tiree, I led the Seniors Assembly on Thursday. I led the OHS S1 Assembly on Friday… more next week.

Across the assemblies, not only did everyone get a warm welcome but I also took the opportunity to celebrate the success of our youngsters who have just received a whole range of qualifications; qualifications they can add to the wealth of wider experiences on offer last session. These qualifications and experiences combine to lead to what we believe will be another successful year where our school leavers go onto positive destinations in the workplace, college and university. 

As noted widely on social media, for those who missed out on the results they hoped for there is help available on the SQA and SDS websites. However, the first port of call is of course our Principal Teachers of Guidance; supported by our in-school SDS careers expert, Colin McLeod. 

Some pupils miss out on a subject and some get passes they were not expecting. In both cases this leads to a significant period of change across the subjects / classes in the first few days back. My thanks to Nan Johnstone in Oban and Aine Cooney in Tiree who are busy re-writing the timetables to accommodate the course change desires of our youngsters.

Timetable changes are also necessary at this time of year because of staffing changes. The summer term is when most teachers retire, get promoted or move schools closer to their preferred locality. Some of these vacancies are known in advance, for example a retirement; others come late in the day, like a promotion in another school. As soon as we are aware of a vacancy an advert is placed in My Job Scotland and we begin to use Social Media, professional journals and word of mouth to attract new staff. 

Often we are successful and this year I welcomed to Oban:

Maria Wilkes (English); Hanna Douglas (Home Economics); Lesley Lyon (Maths); Jodie Dairon (Science); Jan Evetts (Technical Support); Ciaran Bateman, Lynsey MacDonald and Anna Knasiecka (Support Department).

And in Tiree I was pleased to welcome Sheldon McGhee (Socials)

Despite the interviews I led in the last week of term / during the holidays and the number of adverts placed both before and during the holidays – which included enticements such as the provision of staff accommodation as well as the obvious appeal of working in successful, vibrant schools with supportive communities, and set across the most beautiful parts of the country, there were no suitable applicants; indeed no applicants at all in the case of Home Economics. We also have vacancies in Oban for English, Art and Technical. 

We have enough English specialists to cover all the English classes. All Art classes with the exception of a single period of S1 Art will be covered by an Art specialist. The single period will be covered internally, supported by an Art specialist. 

S2 Home Economics is more difficult to cover and so rather than have multiple classes covered by a qualified teacher but non-specialist, S2 classes will be temporarily relocated to another subject for a meaningful short course delivered by subject specialists in those areas. Conversational Spanish and Sport Science will be delivered to S2 until we are able to appoint a Home Economics teacher.

In Tiree, again despite a number of adverts we are still to receive any suitably qualified PE teachers. This will lead us to use internal cover teachers to teach PE until we find someone suitable. I would note however the benefit of having partnered up with Oban in that the lessons will all be prepared by Murray Hamilton, the Head of PE; we will send PE staff to Tiree to help support cover staff; and we intend to use the new VC facility to teach the practical elements of the certificated course by a qualified teacher. Some practical work can be supervised in person by non-specialists but technically by a PE specialist watching the activity via VC to help ensure quality.

It is important to remind our communities that we are well looked after by the Council (both in Oban and Tiree) and have the resources and the finance to teach every one of the extensive courses on offer in both schools, including Home Economics but this subject in particular has a national shortage of qualified teachers and many schools have had to remove Home Economics from their timetables. 

Quite often people wish to criticise the Council or the school for not having teachers. However, as a former Head of Education used to say, every year: “We can’t knit teachers.” In short, if there are no teachers applying and we have offered all kinds of extra incentives and they still don’t apply (often because they don’t exist) then there is little we can do except change the timetable and teach whatever classes we can with the quality staff we have whilst we wait to appoint.

On this same subject I would mention a myth I have heard from a few HTs across the land. Folk sit on Social Media and just make stuff up. It doesn’t matter if it’s linked to football, politics, health care or schools: amongst many other topics ranging from the secrets of a celebrity to moon landings. One such example is that Local Authorities are telling Head Teachers not to appoint staff so they can save money. No Director or Head of Education I know have anything less than high aspirations for all pupils and are well aware that to help achieve this, we need as many top quality teachers as we can employ. The Council give us money, provide the advertising opportunities and regularly send us lists of supply teachers to help get teachers in the door. All education staff across all local authorities, especially in Argyll and Bute, care about our children’s futures in my experience. That doesn’t mean we can knit teachers though.

Congratulations to Oban High’s Grade 3B Pipe Band who played in the World Championships on Saturday. They secured second place in a very demanding group full of adult bands. Due to their magnificent performances and success across the competing season, they were also crowned Champion of Champions.

Our Novice/Juvenile B Band also competed in their first World Championships and were placed 13 out of 21 competing bands. A remarkable achievement for such a young band and great platform for next session. 

I am pleased by the interest shown by the Tiree High School Pipe Band members who wish to work more closely with the OHS band. It’s just a matter of tying up dates and accommodation. I’m looking forward to seeing them together as I was very impressed after watching their performance at the Tiree Prize-giving on the last day of term. Superb!!

I’d also like to say well done to all our OHS youngsters who played so well in the McCauley Cup Final on Saturday. Although, they were defeated at the end of the day; their passion and skill were still very evident. More news on the Shinty front is that thanks to the support of the MacAuley Association and the Oban Common Good Fund, our new School of Shinty will be established imminently. Thanks to Colin Carswell, Euan McMurdo, Les Kinvig, Stephen Campbell and Murray Hamilton for getting this up and running.

Celebrating success is something we should all strive to support and contribute to. Being proud of all our children’s achievements, indeed all the achievements of our staff members and local community partners is something to smile about. Please take the time to log onto the Tiree and Oban Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. 

Much of the promotion of success actually comes from the pupils themselves, and this year the Oban Seniors have decided to use the promotional tag of #ohsmakeseverydayheroes. They have chosen this theme because they came together to discuss the level of success and wealth of opportunity across our community and concluded that this success is down to individuals commitment to our school. Throughout the year, they will do a short biography of a whole range of people, young and old, in and out of school, who help make Oban High School a fantastic school to work and learn in.

In Tiree, the theme adopted for promoting success this year was inspired by the wonderful Derek Campbell. His speech at the Prize-giving urged our youngsters to be amazing. I think that is a wonderful ambition to have and something all our pupils, no matter their age can really relate to.

I began and will end by mentioning assemblies. Every assembly I lead has a link to our school Vision and a reiteration of our values. We aspire to promote these values and in doing so hope to achieve our vison for every youngster. Regardless of size of school, many individuals interact with each other daily; all of whom have different interests, skills, views, talents and learning needs (both social and academic). We are supported by many dedicated and generous partners: local, national and international. 

As we try to ensure the successful development of all our youngsters within this complex web of provision and support, we find challenges and development opportunities. The path to success, in any walk of life, is not easy and is often hard won through commitment and hard work. Thank you very much to everyone who has supported our school over the last twelve months and thank you for your continuing support for the forthcoming year. It is very much appreciated. 



The rains aff’ so I’m out to walk my dogs. I hope you all have a good week coming.


Mama Mia! What a great time we’re having.

Last week started very well indeed as I appointed two new two colleagues: a new Social Subjects Teacher to Tiree and a new School Technician for Oban. Congratulations to Sheldon McGhee and Jan Evetts. Disappointingly, following our recruitment drive for a new DHT for Oban, we still failed to take forward any of the candidates to interview.

The successful candidates for the Socials and Tech positions successfully convinced a panel of three that they had the necessary knowledge, skills and experiences to take forward our schools. They knew the role, knew the school and knew what was going on across the country and how to tap into this wealth of knowledge to build on their own experiences to help shape our schools. In short they came prepared, performed well and were convincing through their exemplification of experiences linked to the next context and environment.

Many people apply for a variety of positions in our schools. More often than not we select the best candidates for the positions based on their applications (which get them an interview) and from their interviews (which help land the job). Sometimes we advertise and don’t interview because we feel the applications forms have not suitably demonstrated that an applicant would take forward the role in our schools; or we interview and the interviewees don’t convince the panel they could perform the roll to a high enough standard. Life is tough for those who don’t make the cut: but that is life. My responsibility is to ensure we have the best possible staff in post for the benefit for our young people.

My advice to all candidates for any post is to ensure they do their homework on a school and the local community. If one is considering moving school or embarking on a new career in a new area, one must consider two things. What is it that the (specific) school needs me to do (to an excellent standard); and, where am I going to live?

The number of applications I receive that merely show off a candidate’s previous experience in completely different environments, without any effort to interconnect their knowledge, skills and experiences with the role expected in either Oban or Tiree is sadly quite common. Lazy application writing is a key factor behind not being leeted for interview.

Now I have not had one of the following for a wee while but my rural Heidie pals repeat this often. Equally astounding is the number of candidates offered jobs across rural areas who then turn the jobs down because they then think the school is too far away; or they ask to delay their decision after a job has been offered because they need to ask their spouse. Arghhhh! Do your homework before you apply! Research the school, call the Head Teacher, take a trip if it is a long distance away. It’s a life changing decision. Be prepared. Demonstrate intellect and common sense.

I firmly believe that all those who do their research will realise just what a wonderful life they could have by moving to Oban or Tiree: great schools, supportive communities and beautiful settings. 

I consistently and persistently note that the purpose of school is to prepare youngsters for life and work. Given the emphasis I stressed on interviews above, you will not find it surprising that I also offer interview training to all pupils. This training will take place on Monday, though I’ll fit any youngster in at any time if they chap my door. It is primarily aimed at those who are applying for leadership positions in the school but any pupil can attend. The application and selection process, including the interview panel system is entirely based on the same one we use for teachers. Even the questions are similar, though of course our expectations are a bit lower. I recommend all pupils apply for these roles. The experience of going through this process helps prepare youngsters for jobs out-with school; and of course if they are successful they get the benefits of that leadership experience, leading more enhanced CVs. 

The same service is open to all staff.

Channel Four are doing a documentary on spectacular train journeys, Produced by Flint TV. Lindsey Hammond & Michael Prince came along to chat to me about filming the pupils who take the train to school. They are interested in the kids views of this experience. Once we have sent out the filming permission forms, expect to see this programme showing off our local environment in all its beauty. Another help in the PR campaign to get new teachers.

The biggest event of last week was Oban High’s official opening day. The day went very well indeed. It should have given it was weeks in the planning and we had a dress rehearsal the day before. Some believe that all this effort was unnecessary. It’s just another day said one. Tell that to a bride was my response. 

In all seriousness, the answer to Why? is quite simple and has two rationales. Most importantly it gives both an impetus and opportunity to exemplar the standards we strive for when taking forward events and demonstrating our ambition and professionalism to both pupils and the wider community. Secondly, again, it provides us with a national showcase of what our school has and can achieve. The media coverage the day shown a bright beacon to the education community that we are a great school to come and work for. This was exemplified through the wealth of accompanying congratulatory comments from so many people who attended the day. Thank you to everyone who came along and made the day such a special one for all the pupils who put a huge effort in to the organisation, service, demonstrations and performances.

The first display to welcome our guests began on the arrival down the Avenue. Pupils manned the displays in the Avenue to show off Marine Skills, Horticulture, Sailing, Canoeing, Mountain Biking and Archery. Our world famous OHS Pipe Band piped everyone in to school to be met by our Head Boy, Angus Neil who took our guest to the registration table to receive their programme and OHS School Badge engraved whisky glass. A selection of both junior and senior pupils adorned in full blazered uniforms then escorted our guests for canapés and fizz, served on the Terrace by our professionally attired Hospitality pupils, many of whom returned to school, having just left after the exams, eager to show off their skills and support their well respected teacher and mentor, Morag MacKinnon.

Once I had thanked everyone for coming along, our senior pupils led tours across and around the school. Our guests saw lessons in Socials, Languages, Maths and Science and took particular interest in some of the more visual areas in our Support Department, Art and Design and Tech rooms. Lots of questions were posed when passing by the Construction Barn, the garage, where we teach both Automotive Engineering and Marine Engineering; the Bee Hut our construction pupils were still building (the bees arrived the next day); our Poly Tunnel; and Piping Pavilion. Guests also passed by the Strength and Conditioning; School of Rugby and School of Dance classes in full flow; as well as seeing Hairdressing and Beauty Therapy in action. Performances of a new play, performed and written by S2/3 pupils also enthralled our guests.

Many of these courses (which include a large number of new Foundation Apprenticeships) and experiences are only possible because of the excellent and very successful partnership we have with Argyll College. My thanks to Elaine Munro and Theresa Bain for their leadership; and of course to the tutors Martin and Amber Crowley, Cameron MacLeod and Jean MacPherson who make the pupil experiences so rewarding and enjoyable.

Then we moved onto the displays in our new stage facilities, with kit found in London theatres, aiding the teaching of our Drama, Stage Production and Stage Management courses, where our dancers, gymnasts and musicians, including those from our School of Traditional Music and School of Dance Performed to a large appreciative audience.

We closed with speeches from the Director of Education, Douglas Hendry and from our Guest of Honour Councillor Yvonne McNeilly, who also did the official unveiling of the plaque. Yvonne is a keen supporter of our school and proponent of the breadth of education we strive for.

I added the vote of thanks to all those who made the completion of the project possible (David Logan and Shirley Johnstone in particular); and the opening day itself such a success. I concluded with the story of how the new school came about from a conversation I had with Cleland Sneddon, six years previously. Cleland encouraged me to be ambitious for our school. It was Cleland (and Carol Evans, the Head of Service) who encouraged me to put forward the application to the Scottish Future’s trust for the money to build the new school. Without this encouragement I would never had bid for a new school and we would never have been able to develop the curriculum in the way we have without such outstanding facilities.

One would think that after a busy day, we could just all pat each other on the back and toddle off to the pub. Nope. After that it was on to an education budget meeting to discuss ways in which we can support schools within a period where all Councils need to evaluate their financial priorities and work on ways in which we continue to be ambitious and successful for our youngsters.

The end of the week saw me jump back on board the Clansman and head to Tiree, where I picked up on similar property issues. The school roof is nearly complete;discussions were held about extending the roof replacement programme to include all the out-buildings to make them water tight. On-going evaluations of which materials to use for the internal corridors were held as we aim to modernise the building; painting throughout the school continues; and I planned for the arrival of the engineers from SSUK to arrive this week to finish the installation of all the new Promethean Boards across the school. These new devices are excellent teaching tools – effectively they are just like 75 inch ipads on the walls of each classroom, giving connectivity directly to the internet, the servers, the computers and of course aiding the quality of the e-learning lessons bouncing back and forward between Oban High and Tiree High.

I even squeezed time in to wash more windows whilst I waited to attend a brilliant production of Primary pupils entertaining staff with a multi skilled rendition of Mama Mia. The choir, keyboards and percussion all did brilliantly. Then it concluded with staff getting to join in. For those that see the video of this, please accept my apologies. The kids only version is better without my dulcet tones.

The vast majority of Tiree High pupils were off on the trip to France where they were learning all about WW1 battles, visiting the Somme and Ypres and visiting WW2 sites – especially relevant given the D Day 75th anniversary events on going just now. I have to say it was the pictures of them all at Disneyland that made me most envious. Never mind, I’m signed up to go the French Trip next year as we intend to take 90 youngsters from OHS there in the February holiday. Not sure we’ll get the same weather!

This is of course is Trip Season for schools. The last few weeks are traditionally a time when most schools take their kids abroad or afar in an effort to give them educational experiences in a more socially and culturally rewarding environment than could be achieved at other more academically time sensitive times of the year. OHS pupils are currently sweltering in Rome as Aisling Clark desperately tries to tie down an audience with the Pope; and Tiree Primary pupils have just returned from a hugely successful trip to Belfast and Glasgow. Indeed, I just welcomed them all off the boat; all smiling away and saying how well they enjoyed themselves. They clearly had a great time.

I exchanged places on the pier with Eilidh Smith and her mum Isla, who were visiting Tiree along with Laurinburg pupil Madison. Last night I sat on a sunny beach (The Maze) after a busy week at work, watching surfers enjoying the waves and my dogs running through the dunes. Eilidh, Isla and Madison look like they are about to experience long walks along wind-swept beaches this weekend. But, Tiree in any weather is a great experience and one which our American guest Madison I’m sure will love.

My family are also hosting one of the 12 Laurinburg kids who have come to Oban as part of the 26th annual Oban-Laurinburg exchange. Nick is a lovely lad who has joined us at home, well looked after by my son Jude. So well looked after indeed, that tomorrow he will visit Easter Road for a tour of the stadium, dressing rooms and trophy room (where he will spend a minute or so looking at the wealth of silverware). We will also visit Edinburgh castle for a bit of culture. Each hosting family will take their guest somewhere significant or special to them this weekend. 

However, most of the visit is planned around a lot of group activities. I welcomed everyone to the school on Wednesday, the they were all hosted by Donald Black at Soroba House (Thanks Donald), Thursday saw them all take part in a car treasure hunt where (Cammy Clark deservedly won a prize as the most innovative participant); and last night saw them at a BBQ at Iain and Mora Richmond’s house. Everyone pitching in and having a great time together is what the cultural experience is all about. More events to report next week.

I missed the last couple of events as I was busy working away in Tiree or leading the OHS P7 Primary Parents’ Evening (we have 19 partner primary schools from across the Oban, Lorn and the Isles area who all attend OHS). We changed the format of this event a little this year. I welcomed everyone along with what parents kindly reported as an inspirational speech before they were taken on a tour of the school by our pupils. Along the way all the groups (parents were placed in Clan groups) stopped at a selection of classes where they received two half hour lessons on a variety of subjects to let them see how much teaching and learning has changed since they were at school. It worked. I have received lots of good reports from the evening.

We have tried to do this throughout the year with all teachers offering the ability for parents to come in and see a lesson but the offer was rarely taken up. I suppose having a captured market helps. Not many parents would willingly sit in on a Maths lesson for example. But they did, and they came away with a positive experience. Great! 

I should take the opportunity to thank not only our pupil guides and teachers who led the parent lessons but also our fabulous Parent Council members who keep giving up their time to come along and support our school. This week they were serving refreshments and selling school ties. Thanks especially to the Chair, Maggie Thorpe, who once again stoop up in front of hundreds of parents extolling the virtues of our school and encouraging P7 parents to join the Parent Council through describing the success of the PC in helping the school in so many ways again this year.

These are the enjoyable parts of the week I have described. Of course there are other tasks that have to be undertaken on a weekly basis. Meetings with managers, or staff requiring support and guidance on a particular issue are daily in Oban and whilst I on Tiree; answering (literally hundreds) of emails; and planning for the weeks and months ahead through reading reports and discussing progress planning with staff. This week saw me discussing the new Working Time Agreements and next year’s school calendars for Oban and Tiree with staff. We need to make sure the tasks set, events held and work expected can actually be done within the teachers’ contracted time and we need to know in advance when are we going to have reports out, in-service days and training held; parents’ evening etc.

I also met with Aileen Jackson to discuss the work she and her team have been leading on ensuring that we raise attainment; and in particular with closing he poverty related attainment gap through utilising the monies allocated to us via the Pupil Equity Funding. Almost all the initiatives we have established have shown to have helped: the establishment of Home Link Workers (Louise and Debbie) to work alongside our Youth Development Worker (Joan) have ensured we are getting more youngsters into school and supported to take forward their learning when in school.

The continuation of the Breakfast Club in Oban and the establishment of one in Tiree, is helping ensure that those who are missing out on a breakfast are able to get the fuel for the day necessary to concentrate on their studies. This is also supplemented by the holiday support and free breakfast we lay on during the October and Easter holidays.

The Fresh Start programme has seen a dramatic effect on the improved reading ages of many; the Mentoring Programme; Nurture classes; establishment of evening Out-reach centres in Park Primary and Argyll College; and parent support classes in the evening have supported many more to improve on theirconfidence, relationships and learning.

Now, I could go on and describe lots of other wee jobs… but I’ll end here. The purpose of my blog, as hopefully you know by now, is to give you an idea of what a Heidie in a Highland school gets up to. For a more comprehensive look at what goes on in school, then please follow our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Website posts for both. We have so many learning experiences; school events; community links and partnerships; and pupil and staff successes in Oban and Tiree that I could only scratch the surface in a blog… which I suppose I’ve done.


Enjoy, I’m off to the Leith San Siro.

It’s all about the Bees

Since my last blog our youngsters have been very busy indeed. Our OHS Wind Ensemble won Gold at the Highlands and Islands Music festival with an outstanding score of 95 out of 100. What an achievement from our incredibly talented musicians. I’m sure I’ll be reporting further wins next week after this weekend’s MOD.

Of course we don’t just celebrate our youngsters successes, we have talented staff too. This week I learned that Davie Paterson will join musician and TV presenter Joy Dunlop, representing Scotland at this year’s Eurovision Choir competition in Sweden, in August. We wish everyone in the Alba choir well.

On the rugby field, our Under 15s displayed determination and talent to win their first North v South Argyll Trophy match.

Also touring again were the members of both OHS Pipe Bands. We came 4th in the British (3B). Hopefully this will give us a wee boost ready for travelling to Ireland to win the UK Championship on the 15th June. Our Novice Juvenile grade band came 5th at the British again a fine effort given the competition. Both bands will travel to Inverness on the 29th of June to take part in the European Championships.

Talents and successes come in many shapes and sizes. I often tell our senior pupils that we are here to support all our youngsters to success. Some will feel a sense of achievement from learning to boil an egg; others from attaining a baccalaureate. Our Primary pupils in Tiree have had many successes this week. The P4s and P5s managed a 6 mile walk to Hynish and an overnight stay. That is quite an achievement for ones so wee; but it’s these achievements that our youngsters build on each day, week, month and year. Others included developing their enterprise skills linked to making money from a working farm; from practicing writing skills by preparing invitations for the new August starts or from learning about horticulture (linked to literacy and art) planting beans for Jack to climb. You needed to have read last weeks blog to get this!

Back in school the exams came to a close with a very complementary and positive statement from the OHS Chief Invigilator, Jim Milligan. I followed this up in a rousing congratulatory speech to all new S5/6 pupils who have worked well this year, encouraging them to be even more ambitious for the forthcoming year.

Pats on the back continued to roll in all across the community with Argyll and Bute Council and the Oban Times promoting the success of Finlay MacDonald’s innovative and highly useful colour scheme game developed for Spruce hairdresser Elaine Smith. A great practical application of the skills learned in Finlay’s Game Design course: another addition to our outstanding earth of curriculum.

We also had members of the Rotary Club coming into the school to award certificates to winners of the “My Inspiration” writing competition. I was really pleased to see Mairi Inglis also being recognised as the West of Scotland winner as well. Well done Ellie! It was also good to see former Science teacher Dave Waltho back in school.

Ronnie Neil, from Bruce and Neil Architects, was vey complimentary about our S4 Graphic Communication pupils when he came along to provide inspiration for those wishing to go onto an architect or design vocation. We are very lucky to have so many supportive members of the business community willing to give up their time.

Indeed, one of the meetings I was part of this week centred on setting up this year’s Business Breakfast. Aisling Clark and Jemma Playfair are busy putting together the invite list of those who we wish to recognise for all their support this year; and those we wish to encourage to sign up next year. Any business or organisation interested please call me at the school.

Another mammoth task that has taken up my time this week is also linked to guests coming along to support the school. This Wednesday we are due to host the official opening of the school. Councillor Yvonne McNeilly will be the guest of honour alongside up to 100 other guests. This is a great opportunity for our departments and youngsters to showcase their talents and they have grasped the opportunity. As our guests arrive down the new Avenue they will get a glimpse of some of the outdoor pursuits: Marine Engineering; Horticulture (a bed of flowers in the shape of the school badge is currently being laid by pupils); sailing; canoeing; mountain biking; Archery; drone flying will all have a welcome display. Our full Pipe Band will be performing at the entrance (great practice opportunity in the middle of competition season) before our guests will be welcomed by the Senior and Junior Pupil Leadership Teams. Potential recruits for next years pupil teams will then act as guides taking our guests to the Terrace to taste the delights prepared and served by out Hospitality pupils. Then our pupils will take our guests on a tour of the school where each Department will be able to give a glimpse of what the new school has been able to offer. Notable lessons on display will be across the Support Department, including at our newly installed massive polytunnel; bricklaying in our new construction barn; automotive engineering in our garage; design and construction skills illustrated through the pupil design and building of our new bee keeping facility – a fantastic way to demonstrate the inter-connectivity of many of our courses. Bee-keeping? Yip! It’s likely to be a significant eco career in the not so distant future; along with a whole host of jobs not previously thought of until recently.

Talking about the importance of bees. Could you please help out Tiree Primary pupils who are making and selling seed bombs as part of their enterprise project. The more seed bombs sold, the more wild plants we can grow and the more bumblebees we can help; especially the Great Yellow Bumblebee.

Thereafter everyone will gather in the Atrium for performances by the Pipe Band; traditional School of Music; School of Dance and Drama classes; before speeches by the senior pupils, Douglas Hendry (Director) and Yvonne McNeilly. I’ll close with a wee word of thanks before we all go for a photo shoot and lunch. I say wee speech but it my be a bit longer than that… as was noted in my not so wee speech at the Laurinburg coffee morning last Friday. A wealth of cakes were laid on by the pupils engaged in the Laurinburg exchange in a last fundraising effort before our American guests arrive in a couple of weeks.

As well as preparing for the Open Day, I’ve traveled to Tiree to ensure progress is ongoing with the School Improvement Plan; and that the property works are in hand. The the new roof, interior painting; new Promethean Boards for every classroom; new computers and new VC equipment, ready to deliver new classes between Tiree and Oban are all progressing as planned.

Additionally, I took on board all the school identity consultation responses provided by Aine and Jemma and discussed at these at a full management meeting last week finally agreeing the full package of changes including the last part, the school badge. That last piece in the agreement will allow us to start ordering the much anticipated new uniforms.

I also met with Gina Cargas, from the University of Edinburgh. Gina is interested in comparative education and international development. She was very interested in my knowledge and views of inclusive education in Scotland; and of course of the many examples of inclusive education we provide in Oban and Tiree. Given the recent exceptionally positive comments from the HMIe visit in February about our curriculum and our inclusivity, I suspect further national interest in this area; likely international interest: as exemplified by another discussion held this week with the outstanding Wenche Rudshaug Kavli, Head Teacher of Skedsmo videregående skole in Lillestrom, near Oslo. We caught up on the professional exchange programme we are currently working within. I think it likely that how we take forward our inclusive approach for all pupils will focus in our future meetings in September.

Other meetings and discussions held in the last week or so included meeting all the PTs and DHTs in both Oban and Tiree; attending the Council’s Transformation Board; attending an educational conference in Cumbernauld to hear from Scottish Government and Education Scotland ideas for future developments; and local councillors, whom I caught up with at the Police Scotland Youth Volunteer Awards. I have to say what a credit our youngsters are, not just in school but out in the community and this excellent organisation is one that allows our youngsters to contribute to the community in many ways. Well done to the excellent PC Claire Brown and her colleagues for helping shape such fine young citizens. Thanks to Kevin McGlynn for this wee pic.

So all in all, a fairly busy but very satisfying time of the year.

Remember the Bees. No Bees; no us!

Pride and proud

Last week ended with a celebration. Our Oban High youngsters gathered together with pupils from both Dunoon and Campbeltown Grammar schools in OHS for a wee breakfast before embarking on a jubilant march down to the town Square to join the big Oban Pride procession along George Street and the Promenade. Despite the weather (we got soaked) everyone who took part enjoyed themselves.

Not only am I proud of all the youngsters who identify as LGBTQI and came together to promote the community and celebrate diversity, I am equally proud of all their friends who came along to show their support and encouragement. More than that, the opportunity to make new friends from other schools and other parts of Argyll is always a welcome bonus to any event.

Adding to ones experiences, developing wider skills and making new friends are key benefits of another Argyll and Bute schools programme I am pleased to support and encourage. Each year OHS has been working with a company called Outward Bound who deliver Leadership courses at Loch Eil. Last year, together with the other Argyll and Bute high schools we got together for a similar outdoor educational experience for all S3 pupils where pupils learned to work together, learned about relationships, about resilience (a lot were out of their comfort zones) and in doing so made lots of friends from other schools. And, it was all free to the schools thanks to a generous donation made to Outward Bound on behalf of our youngsters.

As well as helping to shape these experiences I also started to piece together a plan for the forthcoming OHS official opening day on the 5th June. This will be a spectacular event to celebrate the work done across the school, ensuring our vision for our youngsters is achieved. All the Principal Teachers, course leaders and staff from Argyll College are busy working up their presentations and displays and our senior pupils are currently liaising with staff across the school to write up their speeches. The school will officially be opened by the Policy Lead for Education, and enthusiastic supporter of OHS, Councillor Yvonne McNeilly.

Other tasks occupying my time this week included continuing to work with Gary Clark and Simon from the Education IT Department. Together with the technicians in Oban and Tiree, they are feverishly working away to ensure that the VC lessons due to commence next week will run like clockwork. I have now overseen eight different tests across the last couple of months. Nearly there. Gary and Simon are currently in Tiree running sessions with the children involved in delivering six different subject areas (Business Studies; IT; Games Programming; Art; Biology; and Geography. Later this week they are back in Oban to deliver the final staff training sessions. I’ll be in Tiree to make sure I’m happy with the quality in the final test day.

Property always features highly in the list of time consuming jobs in a week and this week I have been working with the Special Projects Team to ensure that all the snagging issues are being progressed; that new works have been priced or work has commenced, for example the development of the ground works outside the school building, the installation of fencing or planting and the installation of the new 3D Galley of Lorn display at the Miller Road entrance;and the building of the new Support Department polytunnel and bee shed.

In Tiree I met with local contractor Kevin Brown to discuss progress with the new roof, discussed new corridor decor to brighten and modernise the old parts the high school and the establishment of a fitness gym next to the games hall. I also met with Alex Adleigh, the manager of SSUK, to agree the installation of more Promethean boards, ensuring that every class in Oban and Tiree has the most up to date teaching technology possible to date.

Of course it’s not just equipment and resources that continually need updating. Our greatest resource are the staff. To ensure we continue to build on the quality staff in our schools, I need to agree contract extensions for some and to advertise and interview for others. This week I extended a number of contracts across the schools for another year; firmed up the appointment of Art and Home Economics probationers; appointed new cleaners and a supply janitor for Tiree; arranged interviews for a Technician and a DHT in Oban and a Socials teacher in Tiree; and put out a re-advertisement for a Maths teacher for OHS.

I was also pleased to have the opportunity to review the progress of five probationer teachers we have in the school at the current time and I was delighted to agree with the recommendation of their PTs and I signed them all off with the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

Of course in order to keep pace with these changes I do need to ensure we have money to pay for all these staff for new IT and for the property costs and so I have finance meetings every couple of weeks to review our finances. I am fortunate to have an excellent Admin and Finance Assistant, Julie Campbell, who keeps me informed. I’m also fortunate that the Schools Support Manager, Susan Tyre and property officers like George Campbell and Billy Ingram are so supportive. A Heidie cannot do everything on their own. Head Teachers may make the final decisions but they rely on the expertise of others more knowledgeable than themselves before decisions can be made.

Another example of this comes form the work I have been engaged with alongside the PT of Developing the Young Workforce, Aisling Clark. Without the support of Skills Development Scotland Manager Colin Buchanan and support of Elaine Munro at Argyll College, we would not be able to deliver a large number of Foundation Apprenticeships. The number of youngsters interested in Business, Construction and Care FAs are rising each week. If these opportunities lead to the successful acquisition of additional qualifications (an FA is equivalent to a Higher, A grade) and work experience with a business / organisation then we will have succeeded in helping our youngsters to more fully prepare for life after school in the workplace.

Discussions with partners to ensure this develops form another significant part of each week. It is important to engage with organisations like Argyll College, SDS, Bid4Oban and local businesses who look after our youngsters across the town. By listening to the needs and experiences of the employers, we can set them up with youngsters interested in their environment. This is an area we have a lot of experience. We have been running extended work placements (we call the initiative Pathways) for around ten years. We are very lucky to have such a wealth of generous and supportive businesses across the area. Indeed, we will soon be recognising their contribution when we hold our annual Business Breakfast. It’s also a chance for others to come along for a free bacon roll and hear about how they can get involved. Any businesses out there who want to find out more before committing, feel free to call me. Thanks very much!

I was pleased to oversee the start of the new junior timetable commencing in OHS. The timetable, written by Nan Johnstone this year, has clearly worked out very well with all classes running in the correct rooms, with a teacher in front of them. You will be surprised by some of the stories we hear about timetables gone wrong from across the country, with multiple classes turning up to the same teacher; classes turning up to a room number, that is really a cupboard; classes not turning up at all because the timetable didn’t list a room or teacher. We are lucky Nan is excellent in her role.

That is not to say we do not have timetabling issues every year. Some courses are over subscribed. A common issue across schools. In that case our brilliant guidance staff try to work out who needs a subject for a career and they take priority. If they are in S6 and this is there last chance to take the course, they are also prioritised. Some pupils would like to take a subject for a variety of reasons. They liked their subject teacher; their pals are in the class; or they have a real passion for the subject. Those passionate are also prioritised.

Our undertaking for all pupils is that, by the end of S6, all pupils will be able to gain the necessary qualifications and experiences to take forward any career they desire, either directly into employment or via university or college. Some get everything they need on first choosing, others have to re-jig the times and do certain courses in S5 and others in S6 to reach the ultimate goal.

Some pupils are merely back in school, especially in S6, because they can’t decide on a career destination; or are killing time until the Christmas dance – Jingles. Lots of schools have this problem for a whole year with pupils trying to stay on until their senior Prom, the following June. Whilst it is great that the kids want to end their school careers with a big dance, it clearly should not be a significant rationale for staying on, yet it remains the case.

In order to deal with this issue, schools including our own, issue Senior Contracts in an effort to re-assert the importance of coming to school, coming on time, with kit/equipment, in uniform and ready to fully engage in the learning opportunities we provide. This year, we have been re-writing our Contracts to link to our values: Ambition, Compassion, Respect and Resilience. These contracts will be issued next week after I lead a welcome assembly at the start of the new Senior timetable change.

The senior and junior timetable changes in Tiree take effect on the 3rd of June. We had hoped to change on the same days as OHS but this year, because of a change to the bus timetables we have to change slightly later. The date changes will all be consistent from there on in.

We are also getting ready in oban to host our guests from Laurinburg in North Carolina. The pupils involved have been busy fundraising to ensure we can provide our guests with wonderful experiences across Argyll and further afield in Scotland. I have been working on the re-establishment of the Oban – Laurinburg, Twin / Sister town road signs with the Council. We are just waiting on them being manufactured and hope to have them in place after many years of absence.

You will recall the purpose of my blog is to give you an idea of what a Heidie gets up to… well this one has demonstrated again that our role is rich, varied and on the whole enjoyable.

I could have mentioned reading 300 odd emails, writing a couple of hundred responses; visits to classes, assemblies and presentations viewed and individual discussions with or training delivered to staff but a lot of those tasks are either confidential or need to be saved for another day.

I shall leave you with one last experience I had from this morning. Each week I am in Tiree, I visit all the classes in the Primary and the ELC. This morning I really enjoyed chatting to the pre-fives about Jack and the Beanstalk and seeing all the artwork they produced. A new experience for me…. and one I thoroughly enjoy.

Any job that make one smile is a good job.

Hello again, where have you been?

So, a lot has happened since my last blog but I shall begin with the most recent success story. Our OHS Pipe Band just came first at the Gourock Championships. Superb! A great start to the season. Well done to all the players and supporters who cheer them on as we tour the country… indeed the world.

My last blog was at the start of the Easter holidays… I know… I have been tardy in writing about my travels, like our very successful Pipe Band trip to New York. But I have been very busy at the weekends and the Easter holiday/ holiday weekend just seemed to fragment my routine.

Mind you, routine continued afresh after the holiday and it was straight into the weekly round of assemblies as we welcomed Mary’s Meals in for the week to share with our pupils how the funds we raise are put to excellent use. This local charity is absolutely amazing at what they do and the thousands of people they help feed each year and the effect on their lives cannot be measured in words alone. It only costs £13.90 to feed a child for a whole year, so if you wish to help out, please log onto their website.

I mentioned in my last blog that I had just appointed new teachers: two in Business, two in Technical, one in English and one in French. Well as soon as we were back it was into the routine of interviewing again. This time for a new DHT, a Socials teacher, an Art teacher and a Technician. Sadly we didn’t appoint following any of these interviews. Added to these roles, I am looking for a Maths and Home Economics teacher in Oban. I also need a Socials teacher and a Cleaner in Tiree. Please have a wee look on our Facebook pages to get a flavour of our excellent schools and the beautiful area we live in. Everyone else, please share!!! The more you share, the more likely we will have of attracting excellent staff.

There is some good news on the staffing front. We confirmed that we will receive Probationer teachers in Art and Home Economics. These are in addition to the above vacancies we will still fill. It’s all change at this time of year as staff retire, get promoted or look to closer to home to secure a job. This was one of the discussions at last weeks Parent Council meeting.

Other issues under discussion were how the Parent Council can raise further funds to support the school. The PC are currently trying to raise additional funds for a new school minibus. Mini-buses are crucial for us getting our pupils out and about engaging in learning out-with the locality or for getting numerous teams to competitions all over the country. Such is the importance of utilising school transport, we also intend to buy a mini bus for Tiree. This will allow pupils to access educational opportunities across the island as well as making school trips to the mainland easier. And of course, when our pupils are on exchanges or Duke of Edinburgh events for example, we’ll hop on each other’s buses.

Talking of exchanges. I was very grateful to the staff and pupils of St Columba’s Primary for travelling over to Tiree Primary so they could share their experiences in using iPads / Apps in the classroom. All the pupils involved from both schools seemed to have a great time. I should take this opportunity to pay a special tribute to the work undertaken by St’ Columba’s Head Teacher Minnie Maclellan, who has been providing me with endless advice on Primary and Early Learning Centre issues as I get to grips with leading a 2-18 school for the first time. The work she has been doing to support our Tiree colleagues is very much appreciated.

Back to the work of our parents. Parents in both schools have been busy supporting the school communities. As well as the fundraising in Oban, Parents have been contributing to the development of the School Improvement Plan, been on the DHT appointment panels and been attending the Primary 7 Gateway evenings. Next up is their attendance at the forthcoming P7 Induction evening for parents on the 12th of June – tours will be available as well as information on how to help your child in specific subject areas.

Our Tiree Parent Council was also busy last week supporting our most recent consultation on changes to the Vision and Values; re-introducing and expanding the House System and changing the school name, badge and uniform. When any new Heidie takes over a school, it is essential to work together with the community on establishing a shared vision and values. In doing so, we have to ask the school community what they think, beginning with the pupils. I was surprised to learn that our Tiree High School pupils have been demanding a new uniform for years and equally surprised to learn the Primary pupils were not wishing to be left behind. Further surprise was to learn that most staff and many parents wished to change the name of the school from Tiree High School covering the whole 2-18 school, to having a separate naming of the Primary and ELC and High School. Well, that’s what happens when a new Heidie asks for views.

So, since January the Senior DHT in Tiree, Aine has been working with one of the Oban DHTs on a significant consultation exercise. First the pupils were asked about their views on the vision and values. They agreed the Primary and High school ones needed to be slightly different. Then, they were given a range of different uniforms and colours of uniforms to look at from other schools and clothing companies; then they were asked about the House system and how they would like it to work. It shouldn’t all be about sport they said.

Thereafter, when we had a feel for what the pupils like best (they are the ones living the vision and values, wearing the uniform, taking part in House activities after all), we turned to the staff for views. Very keen on the name change and not keen on Primary ties were the most stand out views.

Then the Parents had an open evening where Áine and Jemma led interested parents through the consultation process and sought views on all the different facets. As expected: sold on the vision, values and return of the Houses; and a mixed response to the uniform and badge change. Many pleased with a return to the traditional green uniforms but worried about costs, split on the new badge idea. The beauty of staying out of the consultation process (except the Vision statement) meant I have been able to take a balanced view on what was always going to be a varied response to the pupils desire for change. Currently, I am looking at ways to take on board some further suggestions from parents before making a final decision on anything.

There’s no point in consulting if we don’t listen to ideas; but equally everyone has to accept that not everyone agrees with change and someone has to decide on the changes asked for. C’est la vie.

Other than the above, as I said before, it was back to the routine. Regular meetings with a variety of contractors with regards to the new school in Oban; Teaching Advanced Higher; meeting the PTs and DHTs to discuss progress with remits; still working on live testing of the new Skype systems; getting ready for VC classes; going around classes (it was good to see the new construction facilities being used well; checking on the progress with the extra study classes; and of course wishing pupils well as they made their way to the exam halls. I even put on my work gear on and washed the windows in Tiree and cleaned the rubbish out the burn in Oban in the holidays. Something else to do whilst walking the dogs in the sun.

As well as being involved in all the above I enjoyed a wee holiday in the sun with my dogs, both in Oban and in Tiree. I hope you did too.

Easter Surprise (a wee blog)

Whilst many staff are off on holiday, many are still working away in school. It is a common mis-conception that our school closes for much of the year and we are all on holiday. As many of my regular readers know, this is far from the truth. Indeed Oban High is open 50 weeks of the year, with only the Christmas holiday considered to be a “real” holiday.

So, what keeps us all working away? Well, to begin with we have lots of property related issues to work on. In Oban, it’s an opportunity to fix a lot of the “settlement” issues that every new building faces and we have dozens of workers in repairing floors and lino that has shifted and torn, sports equipment is being added and some of the general wear and tear caused by a thousand people a day moving around each 45 minute period. Similarly, in Tiree we have a new roof being laid and the new Promethean Boards used in classrooms are being installed to match the equipment used in Oban; and we are beginning to refresh all the paintwork to spruce the school up a bit. I have to say, painting a school is a bit like painting the Forth Rail Bridge. It is, or should be, continuous in an effort to keeping the place a bright and pleasant environment to work in for all. I am a firm believer that it does not matter how old a building is; it is how well kept it is that shows we care… shows we have respect.

As well as Janitors and tradesmen all working away through the holidays, we also have our School Technicians carrying out their normal updates and fixes on the huge amount of IT we now use in schools. Additionally we have office staff continuing to perform their roles. My excellent Admin and Finance Assistants, Julie and Marion are working away  settling our year end accounts for Oban and Tiree and my PA, Christine is still processing all the paperwork generated from the six teacher vacancies I filled late last week.

Last week was, as predicted in my last Blog, a very busy week. It began with a few jobs in Tiree where I worked with staff on the new course options process, now published and awaiting youngsters choices after the holiday. As with all course choice forms, there was a couple of late additions that never made it onto the form but hopefully the pupils will still consider them: notably Music Technology; Foundation Apprenticeships in Social Care as well as Business; and Radio Production and Journalism National Progression Awards at Level 5 and 6 for all S5/6. All available now in both Oban and Tiree.

Thanks very much to Elaine Munro, Vice Principal of Argyll College who worked closely with me on securing not only all these FAs but also teasing out another large number of Skills for Work courses available to our youngsters next session. Our partnership with Argyll College goes from strength to strength ensuring we continue to offer the broadest curriculum in Scotland: one in which every youngster has the chance to benefit from experiences and qualifications that suit their individual learner journeys.

The Foundation Apprenticeships are the most significant addition to our suite of courses available and the ones receiving the most national attention. All schools are being encouraged to present these as, for many, they will be a more suitable learner journey than traditional qualifications: though we insist on all our youngsters doing both. If the key purpose of school is to prepare youngsters for life and work, then getting them into the workplace to gain experience in their chosen field, whilst also gaining qualifications at the same time, then this fits nicely with our desire to provide an education for all. A wee reminder: Universities will now credit pupils with 2 Bs at Higher when successfully completing an FA; thus giving parity to vocational learning as well as straight Highers. Of course, we hope that many pupils will achieve full apprenticeships or employment directly from these opportunities.

It was working on the development of these opportunities that took up much of my time last week. Time well spent! As was the time I spent running interviews for the posts of Business Education; Technology; English and French. I am pleased to say well done and congratulations to Caitlin Anderson and Hollie MacLeod for securing permanent positions in Business Technology; Mark Venton and David Berry in Technical Education; Meghan Thomas in French; and Maria Wilke in English. My thanks to all the members of the panels who kindly assisted in the difficult selection process. Assessing the suitability of candidates from their application forms and interview “performances” is always difficult, especially when we have a mix of internal and external candidates. However, in a large school like Oban, we are regularly recruiting and our promoted staff are very experienced. I am positive all our new staff will provide a great service to our pupils and community at large. Well done to all.

I know many of you will find it difficult to believe… but that’s it for this week’s Blog. This may be my shortest blog ever but the past week was jam packed regardless. With new staff and new courses in place and a fresh look and new equipment being applied to both schools I am content all is well this week. I am equally content with the number of staff  and pupils giving up their holidays to come back into school to work together in preparation for the imminent exams.

For those of us still teaching our youngsters in Easter revision for the next couple of weeks; thanks very much for your continuing commitment. It will all be worth it.

For those on holiday, I hope you have a lovely time.

easter revsion


Ambition, Compassion, Respect and Resilience #preparingforlifeandwork

In a large school like Oban High we are always looking for staff: teachers, classroom assistants, youth workers; technicians, janitors and office staff. As we approach the close of the Spring term, it’s a natural time in the year for all schools to advertise for next year’s staffing complement. Please keep an eye on Myjobscotland and our social media platforms if you wish to come and work in a large, successful, friendly school of international note, set in one of the most beautiful parts of the country.

OHS are currently planning to interview for a range of staff across the school. We have current vacancies linked to staff who have moved on and some opportunities linked to temporary / probationer contracts that will be available from next session. English, Maths, French, Art, Business Education, History & Mod Studies, Technical, School Technician, DHT, and ASN opportunities are all on My Job Scotland and we hope to interview over the coming weeks, ensuring we have staff in place for the start of next session.

In Tiree, we are looking to appoint a new Principal Teacher of Guidance, as after a successful period in that role, Laura Kilpatrick returns to her substantive post as Teacher of Music. We are also on the trail for cleaning staff. If anyone is interested, applications can be found, as with all Council jobs, on Myjobscotland.

Consequently, I spent the beginning of last week and the close of this week providing application and interview training to staff across Oban and Tiree to help them prepare for jobs they may wish to apply for during the term. Why would I help people leave our schools? It is our professional obligation to ensure that we provide the best support we possibly can for all our staff. We have probationers who have come to work with us to learn their craft. These are temporary appointments that ultimately still need filled on a permanent basis and our role is to prepare them for a career in teaching; which includes getting them ready for interview. We also have staff who move on (promotion, family moves usually) and these more experienced staff also need up-to-date interview training to help them make the transition more easily. Our reputation for supporting and developing our staff is nationally renowned and this helps ensure that teachers from across the country will apply for our vacancies. It is a natural cycle.

One member of staff who is moving on to pastures new requires a very special mention. Duncan Sinclair has been working for Oban High School for 24 years and 9 months. In that time, he has inspired thousands of youngsters. His empathetic and supportive nature has ensured that so many of our pupils have succeeded in life because of the qualifications he has helped secure and the personal characters he has helped shape. I had the great privilege of leading a farewell gathering and presenting Duncan with a gift of appreciation. I also got the chance to watch a video to celebrate Duncan’s time with us and listen to many of our pupils extolling his virtues and wishing him well. I will miss his kindness, the pupils will miss his support and the school will miss a great teacher.

Good luck in Elgin Duncan!

Another member of staff who left us for pastures new this week was one of our Art teachers, Laura Cadden. Laura has been successful in securing a post nearer to home in Irvine. Over the last 5 years, Laura has made a significant contribution to ensuring that the experience of our pupils going through our Art Department has been both enjoyable and successful. The Art Department results have improved noticeably in recent years.

Well done and good luck Laura!

Results? Success? How do we measure these? Well, what we don’t do is pick one individual statistic and compare ourselves with all the other schools in that one measure. League tables were abolished years ago by the Scottish Government and replaced with a statistical tool called Insight. These Insight results can be found in our School Handbook and demonstrate our comparison figures in literacy and numeracy; compare our pupils’ success across all subjects; compare our us with our comparators in relation to how well we are closing the poverty related attainment gap; and finally how well we do at securing positive destinations for all our pupils (the latter is the new Gold Standard to a school’s success).

The Insight report shows how far ahead of our comparators we are in literacy and numeracy and most crucially shows that we are consistently ensuring positive destinations for all our pupils; whether that be ensuring a desire to go to university, college or straight into work.

The 5+ Higher league table published by a recent tabloid paper is based on the number of pupils who have achieved five Highers or more by the time they leave school. If one wishes a comparison about the number of Highers our pupils can succeed in, perhaps we should use the statistic that our pupils are twice as likely to gain 10 Highers or more than our comparator. Why do less of our pupils get 5 Highers then? Because instead of sitting Highers they have chosen to undertake apprenticeships; work experience; national progression awards; OU courses; DofE etc. Simply put: if we didn’t offer this choice and forced our pupils into a limited range of Higher courses, then the percentage of the S4 roll getting more Highers by the end of S6 would rise and we would climb the artificial league table. However, my commitment is to ensuring our pupils have a broad range of qualifications and experiences that will allow them to get a job. As the 10+ Higher statistics (and the large number of Baccalaureates gained) show, that doesn’t mean we disadvantage the more academic. Far from it.

I mentioned the need for us to develop Probationers by teaching them their craft in schools. Probationer Teachers are not the only ones that need to continue to develop their knowledge and skills. We encourage all staff to attend professional learning opportunities wherever they can. It may be that staff take the opportunity to work with the SQA to develop their knowledge and understanding of the courses we teach; it may be they attend Education Scotland or Argyll and Bute Council courses, such as the excellent Google training delivered a couple of weeks ago in OHS. Or it may be that staff attend our own training delivered in school, linked to ASN, IT, Learning and Teaching pedagogy etc.

Head Teachers also need to keep on top of their game and it is important for us to share knowledge and experience with our peers. A couple of weeks ago, along with other Head Teachers from School Leaders Scotland, I was welcomed to Kinross High School where I took the opportunity to learn from many colleagues about changes taking place across the country. Within a very varied agenda I learned that universities have agreed that Foundation Apprenticeships will receive a weighting equivalent to two B Grades at Higher. This was particularly timely as last week I met with Colin Buchanan Regional Manager for Skills Development Scotland and Elaine Munro, Vice Principal of Argyll College. Together (along with Aisling Clark and Jemma Playfair), we firmed up our commitment to take forward another Foundation Apprenticeship programme in Business. This will be available for both Oban and Tiree and we are hoping to allocate 15 placements thanks to the generosity and commitment of our local business partners.

These FAs will be added to by our support for the Argyll and Bute Council FA in Social Services, Children and Young People and our development of new Level 4 FAs in Hospitality and Construction. They are not Highers but they will help our children succeed in life and work just, if not more successfully.

Hurray!!! The community roared. The school car park is open. We now have 184 additional spaces for all our staff, pupils and visitors. The “School Handover” took place from Morrison Construction last week; but to me far more important than opening the long-awaited carpark, was seeing “The Avenue” open up. This is a huge area of social space available for our pupils to take advantage of and was one of the most prominent features of the bid I made to the Government for our new school. The old school had a tiny area of playground around 150 meters long by about 20 meters wide. The new school space is simply massive and we have begun to fill it with picnic benches, single seating benching and, working with our excellent Catering Service, we hope to have external catering, allowing for hundreds of pupils to sit outside on the terracing and benches, enjoying the sun… for three days in May.

Special thanks for David Logan and Shirley Johnstone and all the Special Projects Team for ensuring we were provided with a brilliant new school.

Jayne Jones, the Council’s Commercial Manager, was back in OHS this week, along with a film crew. It was a very polished filming operation that our pupils were involved in to promote “Cashless Catering”. I would thoroughly recommend all our parents use this facility. Parents can either pay money on line onto a pupil’s card, pay money weekly or just give them cash to upload each day. It is very easy and convenient to use. There is an OHS video on our Facebook page showing how to use the service for those interested; but this one will be even better.

Jayne and I have also been exploring how to implement this great facility into Tiree and hope that parents will soon be able to benefit from a similar service soon. 

Can I also take the opportunity to celebrate another great initiative from Jayne’s team. OHS is used by huge numbers of the local community and many find themselves hanging about for hours, watching their kids play football, rugby, shinty, dancing etc. Well now parents can wait in comfort and do so with a cup of tea and something to eat as we now have mobile catering service in place in the main Foyer, easily accessible via the side pitch door. Please feel free to take advantage of this great facility.

What else have I been up to? I visited Dunbeg Primary P7 pupils. That was great. Another group of enthusiastic youngsters all eager to come along to OHS. Although a bit apprehensive of moving to the big school, they were overawed when they learned of all the opportunities that await them; and comforted when we described the level of support we provide.

I’ve also been catching up with my Advanced Higher History class making sure they were all geared up for Thursdays Prelim. I can’t believe we are nearly at the exams. The closer we get, the more nervous both pupils and staff become. To ensure that our pupils are well prepared we are offering Easter Study sessions (available in Oban and Tiree). I find that these sessions are very important for youngsters to attend as they keep the motivation and the regular support with the teachers going. Last year 280 pupils attended OHS sessions. We are hoping to increase the numbers still further. Hopefully the free food and drink will help; though it’s really the ability to have a teacher on hand to help with all the bits of the courses that worry individuals the most that should be the greatest enticement to attend. The timetables for these sessions are/will be published on Facebook. And of course, pupils should all be attending after school study support every week!!

As well as catching up with pupils attending after the after school study sessions, I also caught up with some of those who recently attended the Milan football trip; indeed, I had the privilege of handing out the certificates provided for completing their course.

I was also very pleased to be invited to watch a Bulls v Sharks game and I awarded a trophy to the victorious Sharks. It was an exciting roller coaster of a tournament that eventually saw the Sharks win overall.

An exciting roller coaster is also an apt description of my experience with Calmac over the last few weeks as I am never sure if the ferry is going; when it is going; and if it is coming back: and the timings are very interesting. The week before last my preferred Sunday ferry was cancelled (again), instead I had to get up at 2.30 am on Monday morning to make a 4.15 am sailing. An early morning start indeed. I am enjoying working with my staff in Tiree and building on our partnership working with OHS staff. I am however looking forward to the Summer timetable and daily sailings. Fortunately, Skype is working well which allows me to lead the management teams in either school no matter where I am on any given day; and the Skype lesson tests are nearing completion. This has now allowed us to add a fair number of extra subjects to the Tiree options forms (to be issued Monday 25th). It will also allow us to ensure that some smaller classes in OHS will run by doubling up with Tiree classes. 

Having attended an OHS Parents evening on career options a few weeks ago, I also had the chance to discuss the same opportunities for all our pupils at a Tiree Parents evening the week before last. The positivity of parents around the opportunities we are able to provide is very heartening. 

Positivity is something we saw in abundance from a very important guest. Cristian Califano, a famous French Rugby internationalist took the time to visit OHS (with French film crew in tow) and spent most of the day talking to our pupils about the importance of resilience, dedication and hard work in all that we do in life and work. A perfect model for our shared values of resilience, ambition, respect and compassion. 

We also saw important guests visit our youngsters in Tiree this week as Anne and Mark Stanley came along to provide an interesting and very valuable talk about being a vet. The more guests we have coming into our schools sharing their experiences, the better prepared our youngsters will be when they make their career choices. I also met with Paul Nicol, Director of the Estates Office and Games Steward for the Argyllshire Gathering, who has also offered to broker a number of key speakers for our youngsters after the Summer; which will benefit both OHS and THS students greatly.

Values were the key focus in this week’s assemblies where our Clan Chiefs and Clan Leaders reminded pupils of their importance. Pupil leadership has been prominent all year. You may recall an earlier post about Norwegian Head Teachers coming to Oban, looking at our good practice in this field. The Sports Coaches have been excelling themselves these last couple of weeks as they led a successful Red Nose Day charity event. They continued to inspire when they led a surprise keep fit session this week; and they led the Primary Gymfest, aided by S3 young leaders.

I also discussed successful leadership events with the Laurinburg seniors who have run a quiz night and a race night in the last couple of weeks. I also met a couple of our Senior Pupil Leadership Team members who are taking forward the Summer Dance preparations as well as the leavers Hoodies and Year Book. I have also been impressed with the commitment of young Kirsty MacIntyre who continues to progress with supplier negotiations following her work in leading the school mascot competition. And of course we also offer SQA Leadership Awards and the Higher Leadership class were working with Hope Kitchen this week.

All of these examples of leadership, whether linked to a Leadership or Sports Coaching award, are examples of experiences designed to fulfil our ambition to prepare our youngsters for life and work.

Ambition and resilience were values also demonstrated by all those performing in our annual Oban High School Pipe Band Concert this week. This was an absolutely fabulous show and my thanks goes out to everyone who made the show such a great success; the pupils who performed, the families for encouraging the youngsters hard work and the audience for the rapturous applause given, making it a very memorable evening for all involved. However, special thanks has to go to Angus McColl and Nan Johnstone. Your reward… you can spend a week with me in New York marching down 6th Avenue in New York’s Tartan Day Parade.

Roll on the holiday… only one very busy week to go.




“What! More? Never before has a boy asked for more.”

It may not be snowing just now but the other effects of Winter are very much in evidence as the storms batter our shores and the wee flu bugs batter our immune systems. The impact on schools and our communities can be significant. The numbers of children absent from school can be measured clearly by our attendance statistics, as can the number of teachers bed-bound – both affecting how our youngsters move forward with their lessons.

“Flu season” is of course not unique, it occurs in every school to lesser or more degree each year across the land. This is what happens when you put so many people in a room / school together.  No matter the precautions, germs spread and one by one, family members, then friends, then school mates, then teachers succumb to the coughing and spluttering. Indeed, this blog has been delayed by a week as I myself was suffering from ‘Man Flu’ last week.

How do schools cope? Well, because this happens every year we have plans in place to lessen the impact of pupil and staff absence. In the case of pupils being absent, staff use Google Classroom more and more to share lessons so that even if a pupil is confined to home they can, should they choose to, follow the basics of each lesson. They should be able to see the learning intentions of a lesson, perhaps a summary sheet of what was achieved, copies of the pages of a book used or web link to a video shown. Not all teachers utilise Google Classroom as fully as others but we have been continually delivering IT training to staff throughout the year to help. We delivered ‘Google-training’ to all Oban staff at the recent in-service day; and we hosted more advanced training, delivered by our excellent Education IT Team led by Gary Clark to staff from all schools across Argyll and Bute who attended OHS this week. Staff from both Oban and Tiree were part of those learning about the wealth of possibilities for the future.

In terms of planning for staff absence, we endeavour to bring in as many Supply teachers as we can to cover lessons left without their normal teacher. This often gives parents cause for concern because they remember what supply often looked like “back in the day”, when quite often Supply teachers were left to babysit classes. These days, our PTs have all the courses well planned and so when a member of staff goes off, the PT starts an absent teacher’s lesson bearing in mind the lesson planned. They then leave the Supply or Cover teacher work to take the pupils learning forward. All our teachers are fully qualified, and whilst they may be covering a lesson in a subject they are unfamiliar with, they still know how to support youngsters with tasks left for them – and if any difficulty, they can nip next door and ask the PT subject specialist.

Additionally, we bear in mind the subject specialism of the Supply/Cover teacher and try as far as possible to link them to a similar discipline. For example, a Physics teacher is more likely to cover a Maths lesson; a History teacher is more likely to cover a Modern Studies lesson.

There are unfortunately times when we do not have enough Supply teachers on tap or enough internal Cover teachers to cover all the lessons during Flu season. And of course, it’s not just illness that keeps staff out of school. The week before last saw us with teachers in short supply because the Supply teachers themselves were ill; we had staff already out doing compulsory training; two others suffered bereavement in their families: and this led us to having to merge classes. This also causes some concern amongst parents. However, all schools plan for this too as it will almost certainly happen during at least one week in a year.

Classes that are merged still have lesson plans to progress with, still have teachers to help pupils and still have subject specialists on hand if required. These merged classes often are put together in a games hall or gym. In our case we can use the Atrium. Our Atrium is split in two sections and has teaching screens in both areas. When we merge classes to this extent, the classes are supervised by Depute Heads. The merged classes in an Atrium are also restricted to Junior classes. As Flu season is close to the exams we re-jig the staffing to ensure our Senior classes get access to subject specialist as a priority.

Timetabling issues were not solely restricted to dealing with staff absence this week. As well as this period being referred to as Flu Season; it is also referred to as the Course Options term. It is this time of year that sees our Guidance and teaching staff sitting down with pupils and parents discussing how they have been getting on with their courses and what subjects and experiences they should engage with next year as they pursue their career choices. These discussions begin with class teachers following the Prelim results being shared, then the pupils meet with their Guidance teacher. To help pupils and parents have a greater understanding what is on offer in the school, in college, at university and in the work place, we also hold an open evening where school departments; Argyll College and Skills Development Scotland (SDS) provide information and offer support and guidance.

We are also very lucky to benefit from SDS committing to send a careers advisor to every S2 Guidance / pupil interview – and with all our Guidance careers interviews, all parents are welcome to attend and learn about what is on offer. We strongly encourage this as careers, qualifications and university entrance requirements are significantly different to when parents attended school.

The information gleaned from school reports, Prelims, Guidance interviews and SDS careers discussions help pupils to get a better idea of what they may choose. When this is a little clearer we then ask pupils what they are likely to choose when the final course option form goes live. This exercise allows us to create column structures that are likely to meet the choices of most pupils. Parents often ask why we restrict pupil’s choices in columns. The answer is simple; and equally true for all schools. If we have 450 pupils choosing 5/6 subjects from a choice of up to 88 different courses the possible individual combinations run into thousands. No school could match every combination, which is why our columns represent “best fit” in any given year. What is important to note is that across the three years of the Senior Phase, pupils should be able to access their full choice of subjects. For example, if they can’t do Modern Studies in S5 because of a column clash; they could pick that subject up in S6.

Our column structure is almost complete for Oban and the “real” options forms will go out in the next couple of weeks. I am also hoping that we will be able to add further to the choice of courses on offer as we continue to try and firm up the ability for us to offer more Foundation Apprenticeships.

I should warn everyone, again, that although we offer at least 88 course across S4-6, we will not run them all. We offer a wealth of choice each year because different pupils wish to undertake different subjects. One year many pupils may wish to undertake Hospitality and less in Physics; the following year, we may see a spike in Physics and only one pupil wanting to do Chemistry. Every cohort is different. We always issue a warning on our course option sheets (as every school does) that subjects are offered “subject to uptake and staff availability”.

The new partnership with Tiree and the new Skype for Business IT facilities we are installing will allow us to ensure that we are able to offer more subjects in both schools. If one or two pupils opt to take an Advanced Higher, and normally this would not be enough to run the course; then it could be that we would combine the small numbers in both schools and run the course with more viable numbers; using Skype to deliver one way or the other.

Schools and colleges across the country have been using VC to great effect over the last few years. We currently use a VC facility called Vscene just now to teach Gaelic. It works very well. It will work even better I believe as the new technology just delivered to Oban and Tiree by the Education IT team is the best available at the current time.

The only problem with such fantastic equipment is sometimes those who operate it, as I found out during three Skype test sessions recently. We have been using staff meetings and parent meetings to test the new equipment before we use it in June with classes. Obviously this is a sensible approach as evidenced by the recent trials. Firstly, we had a very good shared in-service day between Tiree and Oban using Skype, though in one session we learned a lot about the importance of staff positioning in the class. The next trial was between the OHS Parent Council and myself and DHT, Jemma Playfair in Tiree. It showed the system worked and that such meetings could successfully take place but it also taught us about problems of linking additional hardware to the laptops. Once that issue was addressed and we had all the equipment and settings fine-tuned and tested we tried to use the record function during a parent information evening in Tiree and I ended up recording an empty room! Problem now solved – and no harm done.

Why am I sharing all these errors with you? Because it is an important life lesson for everyone, adult and child alike. We need to be innovative, be brave, not shirk from change, development and improvement just because we might make mistakes or even fail completely. Society and life thrives on innovation and requires trial and error before we can be as successful. My examples show there is nothing wrong with such an approach. Trial, error, then learning in test environments ensures we can push the boundaries of the learning experience we can provide, thus ensuring every pupil has a greater chance to achieve their dreams.

Other highlights of the last fortnight include my visit to the P7 pupils of St’ Columba’s and Rockfield Primary schools. Each year as part of the P7-S1 Transition stage I try to visit as many P7s as I can across our 19 Partner Primary schools. I thoroughly enjoy these visits as I am always met by keen youngsters, eager to hear all about what it is like in Oban High School; and of course this year sees me deliver the description of life in the new OHS for the first time.

This is now the 11th year of such meetings and as such I am well aware of three common concerns faced by most P7s every year. Firstly, they worry about getting lost in the big school. Remember, although we have schools with primaries of over 300, we also have wee schools where perhaps there is only one or two coming from a particular primary. No wonder they are daunted by the change, even although we have endeavoured to get them along to the High School throughout the year and they’ve caught a glimpse of life in OHS, whether through taking part in a P7 project, a sporting event or an event like Maths Fest.

My answer to those worried by getting lost is that they shouldn’t worry. There are about 150 adults around the school they can approach; and our seniors are very friendly too. They are all given a senior Prefect buddy, a map and extra time to get around, so they’ll all be fine.

The second fear is that the work will be too hard. My reply focuses on getting them to recall the difference between moving between P6 and P7. I tell them that we work closely with their Primary teacher, who tell us what they have been learning and that just as the work got a little harder between P6 and P7, so it is between P7 and S1. All we do is build on the work done by their Primary teacher and make it a little harder to achieve natural progression. The same is true between S1 and S2.

Finally, the third worry is about bullying. My reply is in line with the guidance given by all teachers. If a pupil is being bullied, then they or a friend need to tell someone. As soon as we know someone is being bullied we can step in to help repair the relationships that are causing the bullying to take place. If we don’t know about it, we can’t act.

As well as working away in OHS on timetabling, course options, negotiating staff contracts, holding interviews (I have just secured a new Home Economics teacher for Oban and Janitor for Tiree), meeting contractors about the new school (completion date this Wednesday), discussing finances as we get close to the end of the financial year and holding whole staff meetings or one-to-one management meetings, I was on my travels to Tiree.

Last week I was in Tiree with our Head Janitor (Lynne) to work on harmonising the role of the janitorial roles between both schools and to drop off new tools and technical equipment necessary to make sure building work, as well as lessons take place with the right tools for the jobs. Also in attendance was Jemma Playfair who has been working with Aine on listening to the views of pupils about things important to them. As a result of their views we have worked with the catering service to improve choice in the canteen and the pupils report they have seen a change to their liking. These discussions will continue as we hope to improve choice yet further.

The pupils were equally pleased to learn that their desire to have a new uniform is taking shape. Jemma is currently working with them on choosing a new uniform, new badge and perhaps a change to the school name. Pupils and staff clearly indicated they want a separate Tiree Primary School and Tiree High School identification. The school badge art work is on about version 6 or 7 and is being mocked up with Digital Kangaroo in Oban.

Of course with all changes affecting a school community, we need to seek the views of all parties and the uniform, badge and name consultation will shift to parents soon. This is similar in nature to the change to the school day consultation, though we started with parents, then staff. The consultation has now shifted to the catering service and transport sector.

This week saw me in Tiree with Councillors Roddy McCuish and Jim Lynch. Both were keen to learn about the progress we were making with taking forward the recommendations in the School Review and in meeting pupils and staff. They also took the opportunity to seek the view of members of the Tiree Community over the provision of flights: flights we used ourselves to get to and from Tiree, ably assisted by one of our pupils Cameron Allan who has been doing long-term work experience at Oban Airport. A job he loves. He has lots of great people to work with there, especially Dixie, who looks after me and my staff as we come and go. It is much appreciated… as is the pilot, Wolfgang keeping us alive in the shoogly plane.

Much of the School Review developments so far have focused on developing the partnership between staff in OHS and THS. These partnerships will ensure that the curriculum in both schools move forward at the same time and in line with local and national good practice. It will also ensure that that staff in each school have a bigger team to work with. This is great for both schools as every school needs another to partner and moderate lessons, courses and assessments with. It is mutually beneficial.

The High School partnerships began first because as the head of two high schools, this was easy to achieve. However, I also lead an ELC and Primary school. To support their development, I thought it best to seek the support and guidance from an experienced Primary Head Teacher. Minnie MacLellan, with many successful years of experience in leading two primary schools and with a Gaelic and island background herself seemed to be an obvious choice. Minnie has now kindly been working on my behalf with the PT of Primary/ELC, Julie MacLennan and her team. Together, they are working on an improvement plan that will ensure that our primary colleagues will also be able to work in partnership with colleagues, sharing good practice and delivering a curriculum that ensures our youngsters continue to learn all they need to ensure continuity of learning from the ELC, through the Primary, into the High School and beyond.

Minnie also kindly led a parental information evening on the subject of building a curriculum. The session focused on discussing with parents what Tiree parents thought were important contributory skills, values and career destinations necessary to consider for teachers planning what to teach and why we are, or why we should be delivering additional knowledge and skills. As much as some in the audience may have been more aware than others about the history and nature of their community, there were many others who told me they valued the evening as being enlightening. For my part, as the new Head Teacher and not familiar with the history and environment, I found the session to be immensely interesting and useful.

Kevin Champion and I acted as the assistants and added information that helped shaped the next steps to the Primary developments as evidently, Primary pupils become High School pupils and we need to work together. Kevin was in Tiree to work with his Senior DHT partner, sharing experiences and self-evaluation systems crucial to evidencing the success or otherwise of all we do and contributing to the next steps planning stage of our improvement plan. As the Head of Guidance in Oban, he also had the opportunity to work with the new PT Guidance Laura Kilpatrick on Guidance issues but also discussing how she could add to the OHS course options through teaching Music Technology, something we can’t currently offer without her expertise.

At the same time we had Kevin over in Tiree, we had Jack Cooney, teacher of Computing in OHS working with his new colleagues… and covering classes caused by the aforementioned Flu.

My visit to Tiree extended into the weekend again as I found myself privileged to be part of the school musical production of Oliver, in which I played the part of Mr Bumble. Whilst my acting talents were a tad rusty, my costume, made by the very talented Claire Brady, ensured that I at least looked the part.

Fortunately, I was only on stage briefly, which gave me the chance to run around the front to watch all my pupils getting engrossed in their roles and thoroughly enjoying themselves. There is nothing more satisfying to any teacher than to see their kids smiling away, enjoying themselves, and of course learning so many skills as they do so. The evening show and a Saturday matinee were enthusiastically well attended and I am aware from many discussions after the show and on the ferry home that it will be remembered for some time to come.

These shows only come off because of the enjoyment of the kids; the enthusiasm of the audience; and the hard work of the adults involved, teachers and parents/community helpers alike. Well done to everyone; especially Julie, Becky, Ishbel and Laura.

Everybody enjoyed themselves – a great way to end the week!!

“Blown away”

A reminder that my Blog is not a diary; it merely reflects my thoughts about what I have been doing and thinking in a particular week. Sometimes it has more about Oban, about Tiree; about my work with the Council, BOCSH, SCEL, SLS etc; and sometimes about my views on Scottish Educational issues. Advanced warning: my witterings this week are varied and a tad longer.

Last week’s blog included a great evaluative summary from the Good School’s Guide, from their evaluation of our school the previous week:

“If you have a vision of secondary education as a linear, largely shared academic experience with national exams strategically placed along the way, think again. Oban High school probably more than any other secondary school we have visited has fully embraced the idea of the Curriculum of Excellence and shaping an education to each individual child.”

“We struggle to describe this as a school: more a complete educational experience. Inspiring leadership has meant they tackle a huge and complex catchment area with commitment and dedication.”

It is worth repeating if only to complement the observations made by the HMI following their Thematic Inspection of OHS last Monday. You may recall that as part of the Scottish Government’s drive towards school improvement and the empowerment of Head Teachers and their school communities, I noted that the HMI were carrying out a number of Thematic inspections across the country. Oban High School was chosen to be evaluated on “Leadership of the Curriculum”.

Leadership is an interesting concept because everyone thinks of leadership in different ways. What is leadership? Is it an individual leading others along a route chosen by the leader? Is it a single person deciding who else is allowed to lead and encouraging leadership amongst others? Is it a committee or team of people leading the rest of the organisation?

How we viewed leadership was the first challenge posed by the HMI. My answer: Leadership is about everyone recognising that they have a leadership role to play. It should be assumed as a natural responsibility and not one foisted upon or gifted by someone higher. I believe that pupils, teachers, support staff, parents and community partners all have a leadership role to play if we are to ensure we continually improve the breadth and depth of care and education we provide to our community. If everyone shares our vision and takes ownership of what they can achieve, either as an individual and/or as part of a team then the school will naturally move forward with pace and consistency. It will thrive because of the collective will and collective talents of all and not just rely on one person (the Head Teacher), or a few (the Senior Leadership Team).

I was pleased by the HMI’s assessment of our leadership of learning being “accurately outlined and well defined”. Particularly pleasing was the recognition that there was “evidence of pupil leadership and how they were leading their own learning”. As with all positive observations there is always a caveat… on this occasion, the observation that there was variable leadership ability across teachers. Entirely natural and to be addressed.

Some people, Head Teachers included, love praise and hate criticism, even if it is positive criticism. It is my contention that one is unlikely to receive much praise if they cannot welcome observations on the aspects of life that are less than perfect. The reason I am content for other organisations like the HMIe, Good School’s Guide; Investors in People etc. to come into our school and have free reign to watch our lessons; evaluate our exam results; or interview our pupils, staff, parents and partners (as has been the case twice this month) is that a fresh eye on what we are doing is crucial to being able to improve. Sometimes someone will give advice that is out of context and so of less value but on most occasions we use the independent comments and suggestions for improvement to continue our journey of improvement.

And, building on prior advice is perhaps why the HMI continued with more praise for our Learning, Teaching and Assessment Policy; the quality of our support staff; the wealth of partnerships we have established; the very positive relationships we have with parents; the success of our assessment and moderation activities; the level of empowerment felt by Principal Teachers and how they use this leadership; and the strong levels of reflection shown by teachers.

The HMI thought our youngsters were great and that they had no difficulty in describing our curricular success, they spoke highly of our Pathways Programme, which provides vocational opportunities and experiences to seniors to supplement their academic qualifications; and particularly pleasing was our youngsters’ insistence that Oban High School equally values both the academic and vocational. The large number of Baccalaureates we provide are highly valued to some going to university; but not any less valuable than the Customer Services awards that will get some a job straight from school.

This example, amongst others, helps explain a final parting observation by the HMI when it was noted that there are “not many schools that can achieve this level of inclusion”.

Awaiting, then experiencing, any HMIe visit creates a certain tension across a school community and so at the end of the visit I met with pupils, then staff, then sent messages to parents and partners saying thank you and well done. They all knew the school, both vision and practice, and they outlined where we were and how we could improve. All took responsibility for leading the school… and exemplified my definition admirably. Pheww!

A special mention has to go to my Senior Depute Head in Oban, Kevin Champion. Kevin was responsible for putting together all the preparatory reports and evidence and for setting up all the interviews with pupils, staff, parents and partners. Given the importance of the visit and the need for an attention to detail, I am very pleased (and relieved) his work was excellent. A fantastic effort. Thanks Kevin.

Of course I mentioned that with praise should naturally come critique. So, what’s next to add to our School and Department Development Plans?

Well first up is that I’ll need to re-write the curriculum rationale. When I first heard this statement my heart sank as I thought the criticism was of our curriculum itself; and given I’ve been running about Scotland and Norway promoting it, this could have been very embarrassing. Thankfully the Curriculum was great, it’s just we under-sell ourselves by not describing it very well.

More seriously we have work to do in developing a deeper understanding of the Broad General Education amongst staff (and I would argue with many parents). The BGE contains a breadth of education that pupils are entitled to experience, covering eight curricular areas. A key purpose is to ensure that between S1 and S3 pupils get a baseline education covering knowledge and experiences they will need to make their way in life after school. It was designed that way to help overcome the problem of schools narrowing the curriculum so that pupils were only taught a limited number of subjects so they could pass their exams in that narrow range of subjects.

The BGE has a heavy lean towards ensuring we teach literacy, numeracy and health and well-being for all and indeed these three areas are the responsibility of all teachers to ensure these basic skills are taught, reinforced and consolidated across all subjects. Additionally, we continue to develop inter-disciplinary courses; ensure we share with pupils the learning outcomes and success criteria and skills to be learned in lessons – all to ensure that pupils see the relevance of doing subjects and topics within subjects and how they fit with the real world.

The media has wrongly lambasted a Curriculum for Excellence (especially the BGE) for many years. Lazy reporting had mistaken the professions frustrations around the new qualifications as being one and the same. They are not. I know many who are still fed up with the qualifications changing year after year. I am not aware of many, though they do exist, who can argue against a Curriculum that delivers a wealth of knowledge and skills to youngsters varied enough to expand their knowledge of the themselves, the workplace, the world they live in.

If you believe the purpose of school is to prepare young people for life and work, then the BGE is great (though can still be improved); and if you believe school is merely to provide youngsters with 8 O Grades, then you may be one of those arguing with the Government for a revision of the curriculum again. Head Teachers across the land uttered many expletives when this came out. Everyone is entitled to their view though.

The consultation document can be found here:


Last week I wrote about those who harken back to their own schools days, usually around the 80s. Back then we had the ability to tackle up to 8 O Grades across S3 and S4; 5 subjects (Highers or O Grades) in S5 and another 5 in S6 (though most only did 3 and had lots of “free periods”. Sorry, most pupils had left school by S6 with few courses at an appropriate level of breadth of interest available to them.

Two main problems: firstly, only about 30% could manage to do 8, either because of ability but also because they simply had no interest in studying for 8 subjects, most of which they didn’t like or were forced into. Standard Grade replaced the O Grades and allowed for three levels of certification across the 8 subjects (Foundation, General and Credit – the latter being equivalent to the O Grade) but still kids hated doing 8 and would try and sabotage their way out of classes constantly: wasting the time of teachers and causing a major headache for Guidance and Deputes – what to do with 70% of pupils who could not or would not stay in all 8 subjects?

Another key complaint was that there was too big of an academic jump between O Grades / Credits and the Higher. When the new National Qualifications were designed, the National 5 qualifications were deliberately designed to be harder and to close the gap between the Higher. They were also to be delivered in one year (S4). Clearly pupils having harder courses to sit in less time required a solution. The solution for the majority of schools was to reduce the subjects on offer from 8 to 6, thereby allowing more time and more chance of passing all 6. This also had the added benefit of not forcing pupils into many more subjects they didn’t want to do.

For those who complained that pupils would not get as many qualifications as previous generations four points were made and repeated often:

1. Most pupils never sat 8 in the first place;

2. Pupils can still get as many qualifications as before, they just need to spread them evenly over S4-S6;

3. A cautionary note about the stress caused by trying to do 8 harder subjects in less time would have on the health of youngsters;

4. Those traditionally sitting 8 are almost certain to go onto do 5 Highers to get into university, and no university asks for more than 5 Highers, so what’s the point of having to do 8 Nationals?

At Oban High School (following consultation with pupils, parents and staff), we moved to 6 subjects like most others. Our pass rates at the O Grade/Credit/National 5 remain on par, sometimes better, sometimes less so, with the averages attained before the change (though it should be remembered it is not a level playing field because the Nat 5s were designed to close the gap and are more difficult many subjects argue).

With regard to Higher results: they have improved significantly between both periods. This could be because we have employed better teachers; have better ways of teaching now; have better resources etc. Or, it could be that the new Nationals really do prepare youngsters better for the Highers and the system of spreading them evenly over three years rather than front loading in S4 works very well.

In terms of overall success rates: by the time pupils leave school, a pupil in Oban High is twice as likely to get 8 or more Highers and 10 times more likely to get 10 or more Highers compared with our Virtual Comparator.

One further adaptation we have put in place this year allows pupils to attain up to 9 subjects in S4 and we have done so without reducing the time allocated to the basic 6. How? Pupils will now be able to collect a National 4 or 5 in PE and RMPS. These are compulsory subjects that all pupils in Scotland have to do. Our staff have re-worked the courses to allow our youngsters to achieve qualifications as well as experiences. We have also built in Scottish Studies units across many subjects and will add a short term course in June to ensure the full award can be gained.

Why? Why not? If we can, we will.

Oban High School is not alone in making these changes and there are more than a few who are leading the way with ensuring that our youngsters get the best possible qualifications – Tiree High School will be included in these improvements.

The Inspection had kept me away Tiree for some time, though I was still able to lead developments from afar courtesy of VC; and having a number of excellent staff on the island. Oban staff have been working with our island colleagues on course development, assessment and moderation as well as professional learning through shared practice. We had OHS staff teaching Tiree classes and Tiree staff teaching Oban kids; whilst others focused on strategic developments. The impact on staff from both schools is noticeable.

Wednesday saw me attend the Joint Services Committee in the morning and Chairing the Education Budget Steering Group in the afternoon but the best part of the day was without question attending the annual Dance Show in the evening. I say every year that it gets better and better… this year was a cracker, even the teachers demonstrated a lot of talent (a lot of the recent appointments have all been experienced dancers). Our partnership with the internationally renowned Ballet West; the continuing growth and diversity of our excellent Sports Coaching programme and the dedication of both staff and pupils, led by the brilliant Denise Gemmell ensured a night to remember. Thanks too to our Primary pupils who came along and entertained the audiences with spectacular routines.

staff dance

Thanks to Kevin McGlynn for this picture.

I was back on Tiree on Thursday and Friday (in fact I am here until Monday). In that time I have renewed and changed staff contracts, almost concluded the recruitment process for a new Janitor; worked on plans to improve our school property; began changes to next year’s curriculum to allow more courses to be offered to pupils; teased out some of the views given in the recent pupil focus groups with some pupils; liaised with external partners to come in to provide more courses; and worked with Oban staff over the joint In-service provision next week.

Saturday evening has obviously seen me write this Blog. Tomorrow I’m composing a letter to parents with an update on where we are with the school review and asking for their views on a possible new curriculum; maybe even a change to the school badge, name and uniform – all suggested by pupils.

However such decisions are reserved for the leadership of all, not for one. I look forward to seeing how it all comes together.

I don’t want to kid you all on and suggest I spent the whole weekend working. Saturday morning saw me tour the island with Archie and Maisie. We had a great time walking along Balevullin Beach (it was a bit windy), then Sandaig Beach (even windier), then on the recommendation of the only other locals brave enough to be out in the gale (Chrystal and Daisy) we were off to the Hynish Centre and Skerryvore Lighthouse Museum (exceptionally interesting for an historian like myself).


I thoroughly recommend Tiree, no matter the weather. Its stunning scenery and friendly locals will ensure you have great time.

The HMI opened the week with a statement about being “blown away” with Oban High School’s curriculum and inclusion” and I’ve closed with being blown away with Tiree’s scenery and hospitality. A well rounded ending to this week’s blog I feel.

How do you like your tea? Strong.

A short blog.

“No blog last week. Shocking! What on earth were you up to Bain?”

With the HMIe about to descend on Oban High tomorrow as part of a national thematic inspection on how head teachers and their schools have been empowered to develop the curriculum, my attentions have been largely focused on ensuring that we re-evaluate our curriculum and prepare the reports necessary before their arrival; as well as meeting with all the staff, parents, pupils and local organisations and businesses that will be interviewed to determine our successes and further development needs. It’s all rather time consuming but I have to say a very valuable exercise as it does force us to take stock of our vision, values, aims and ensure we measure the impact on the pupils of all that we have been striving for.

This external evaluation comes close on the heels of another. “The Good School’s Guide” is a totally independent review publication which sends their staff the length and breadth of the UK reporting on schools’ care and education as a way of informing parents who are thinking about where they would like to send their children. As you are well aware parents living in a rural area like Argyll tend to send their children to the local school; but not always. We have lots of pupils who choose to come to Oban instead of other school catchment areas or even from abroad because of the breadth of qualifications we offer. I’m not permitted to share the full review with you (you’ll need to buy the next GSG update if you wish) but I can offer you a teaser or two:

“If you have a vision of secondary education as a linear, largely shared academic experience with national exams strategically placed along the way, think again. Oban High school probably more than any other secondary school we have visited has fully embraced the idea of the Curriculum of Excellence and shaping an education to each individual child.”

“We struggle to describe this as a school: more a complete educational experience. Inspiring leadership has meant they tackle a huge and complex catchment area with commitment and dedication.”

“Peter Bain may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he is a man with a strong vision and a passion for education.”

I have to say I don’t mind not being everyone’s cup. If any leader in any business was well liked by all, then something would be far wrong. Improvement, innovation and aspiration requires change and not all people like change; yet change is necessary. The world around us is changing, many of the jobs we will be doing in a generation will look quite different from that which we do just now. Consequently, the qualifications and experiences which we provide in school, with the support of our partners like Argyll College, Ballet West, Open University or Glasgow University (Reach), need to change too. Many staff, parents and pupils recognise this and appreciate the changes we are making to ensure we prepare our youngsters for work; others cannot see beyond their own education and advice given to them from 20 or 30 years ago.

It is for this reason that I am pleased to note that we have yet again secured the continuing support of Skills Development Scotland (SDS). I met with Area Managers Margaret Bennett (Oban) and Pamela Little (Tiree) this week to ensure that careers advisors will be present in careers discussions between our pupils and our parents; thus ensuring parents are given the most up-to-date guidance from the experts. It is quite an undertaking by SDS to send extra careers advisors to our schools during course options and I am extremely grateful to them. Of course parents should be aware that families may also use the excellent World of Work website developed by SDS.

Top tips for parents:

1. If your child knows what career they wish to embark on. Look on-line for initial advice on qualifications and experiences required; then speak to their Guidance teacher who will give them advice and will then arrange an appointment with a careers advisor if necessary.

2. If your child does not know what they want to do when they leave school. Aim to get the highest possible qualifications they can (including English). Leaving with any 5 Highers/National 5s etc (always including English) will allow entry to an endless number of university/college courses or for securing the basic qualifications to get an interview for a job.

3. Allow pupils to choose their own subjects; subjects they enjoy. If they enjoy the subjects they are doing, then they will more likely pass them; and at a higher grade. Do not tell them they must choose one from Science, one from Socials, one like Admin, Business etc. This was the advice I received in the 80s. If pupils follow this and are forced to take subjects they do not enjoy, they may miss out on the grades they need.

4. A very few subjects like medicine and dentistry have very specific demands. Make sure you know what these are. Don’t guess/ don’t assume the 80s model.

5. Finally, employers and universities are increasingly looking for pupils to have acquired experiences that will allow them to do well in their new job or survive living away from home. Once a pupil has gained the necessary qualifications they need for a job interview / university entrance, balance S6 with a wider range of experiences (most of which have qualifications linked to them them). Interviewers seem more interested in asking questions about things like a Leadership or Customer services experiences than how many extra Highers or Advanced Highers a candidate has. This is advice from Business leaders not just Head Teachers.

 I should also pay tribute to SDS for supporting us in developing Foundation Apprenticeships for pupils in both Oban and Tiree. It is very early days as we tease out the structure, staffing and finance of these between the schools, SDS and Argyll College but Aisling Clark (PT Developing the Young Workforce) has already received support from the local business community to secure placements for our Oban kids. I briefly mentioned this during the Parent Council meeting in Tiree in an effort to get the ball rolling there too, so we will be looking at placements for all youngsters.

Whether we are offering academic National 1 Courses or full Baccalaureates; Foundation apprenticeships or Customer Service units for those who wish to balance the academic and the vocational experiences, our promise is to ensure we provide any qualification or experience one needs (not wants) for any pupil to get any job or any university place in Scotland.

One parent told the Good Schools Guide we are not as good as we think we are because we try to offer too much to our pupils. Some parents scoffed at us offering vocational subjects like Bakery instead of more Advanced Highers. My response to this is simple. If a pupil needs an Advanced Higher to get into a Scottish University, we will run it. If a pupil wishes a career where a Bakery qualification will help them get a job; we will run it.

Our Vision is for all pupils to succeed. Those pupils doing the many Advanced Highers / Baccalaureates we offer and those who wish to work on the land; in factories; in shops, offices, hotels, bars and hairdressers. We can and we will support every child’s dreams… along with our partners and friends in the community.

 Hold on a minute whilst I climb down off my soapbox…

So back in Tiree last Monday and it was some of these tips I was sharing. Tips already frequently given to OHS parents. I was very pleased to note a well-attended Parent Council meeting: a meeting that was full of parents interested in the developments underway and of those volunteering their services (and resources) to the school. I have been lucky to have the support of the OHS Parent Council and it seems to be that the THS parents are equally dedicated to the task of supporting our school.

I have had the privilege of working alongside many parents over the years who have embraced this endeavour and have sought to support the changes necessary to ensure that every child has access to the same opportunities as others. The support of parents in securing funding for our Hardship Fund, our Breakfast and Homework Clubs and for other initiatives linked to the Scottish Government’s (and our) desire to close the poverty related attainment gap are very noticeable. My thanks to all the parents who give up their time to help in our schools either with fund-raising or supporting good causes; in promoting initiatives linked to the health and well-being of our kids; or in helping us to support parents, help their children with their studies and experiences.

I was grateful for the delivery of paint for the THS out-buildings and for the offer of help to paint the walls. Other property issues I worked on this week included the installation of a new roof to much of the school. I am also in the process of building a new fitness room and have already purchased the equipment; new offices have been built for the new PT and secretarial roles; the heating is in the process of being sorted; and new computers/IT equipment has been ordered to bring the IT up to the same spec as Oban. My thanks to George Campbell, Billy Ingram, Maria McPhee and Kevin Brown.

Of course one of the biggest IT changes taking place across both Oban and Tiree is the establishment of Skype to ensure better communication between the partnered staff and to enable the ability to share learning experiences thus expanding the level of choice in both schools. I am thankful to the Council for investing heavily in the installation and purchase of equipment to make this happen.

Property meetings in Oban led me to check over the new carpark, bus turning and outside social spaces in the grounds of the new OHS. Nearly there. Inside we are now at the stage where we are making minor repairs caused by the wear and tear of over a thousand people making their way around and in and out of our school. We are also about to add some CCTV to the Atrium and more importantly our newly agreed Values (based on our Vision statement) are to be placed on the Atrium walls.

Following a consultation exercise with OHS pupils, parents, staff and partners the values of Ambition, Compassion, Respect and Resilience were identified as those our community most thought worthy of recognising and promoting.

Jemma Playfair (DHT) carried out exactly the same exercise with pupils in Tiree last week and is about to launch the staff and parent consultation this week. I am aware the THS community share these same values, amongst others, though I am interested to note whether they will feature as the top four as well. It matters not if they match or not. What is important is that each school promotes its own set of values.

I have mentioned a fair few partners above and my week continued with more meetings about ensuring continuing support from another two great organisations of a similar nature. The Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme has been provided both within and in addition to the traditional OHS curriculum for many years now. Since we took the initiative to take place the award at the centre of our enhancement activities and secured the support of many staff, dozens of pupils each year benefit from the experiences and lessons learned as they make their way through the Bronze, Silver and Gold tasks. My discussions this week were around utilizing the partnership with Tiree so that both sets of students can take part in the activities away from their immediate local communities but still have the support of the others environment and resources. There’s no point in dragging tents across a ferry when the same equipment is at either end for example. My thanks to Lucy Girling for driving forward all the initial developments in Oban; and to Aimee McIntosh for taking over now.

Freda Fallon’s leadership of developments with Outward Bound is another success story. We have now progressed from delivering leadership courses each year to S6 pupils to allowing our S3 pupils to experience what it is like to use the outdoors as a leadership opportunity… one that because of the nature of the setting encourages ambition to succeed in a unfamiliar setting, compassion for the feelings of team-mates, all of whom will be stressed to some degree by the experience; respect for the skills each team member brings to the endeavour and resilience throughout the challenges set.

Another example of how we plan to link our lessons, in and out of the classroom, with what we need to build on to better prepare our youngsters for life and work after school.

Partnerships is a theme I shall explore again next time as just this week Wenche R. Kavli, Head Teacher of Skedsmo videregående skole and Knut Kirknes from Mailand Videregående Skole, Norway, both contacted me to take forward international opportunities we are working on alongside the Scottish College of Educational Leadership.

I would love to keep typing away with more info and thoughts but the HMI will be here soon, so I better get myself and my team in order to show off what a wonderful school community we work in. The HMI will interview me, the senior leadership team, groups of teachers, support staff, then pupils, parents and local partners… it’s going to be a busy day.

I’ll tell you all about it next week. Meantime, for those interested in many of the daily goings on over the last couple of weeks, go onto Facebook. I instructed all the staff in both schools to increase the number of posts published to keep giving parents and the wider community an idea of life in our schools; as well as for key messages, travel updates and sharing our numerous success stories.

Please feel free to share any FB post.

If you are a parent reading this and have any questions about anything, contact your child”s Guidance teacher in the first instance.

Anyone else reading my personal blog who wants to get in touch about sharing good practice; wants info on any of the professional learning I am involved in; or are offering support for my Oban or Tiree kids, PM me please.

It’s good to share!!