A flying start

So here’s my first blog of the new year. However before I begin, may I remind everyone reading my witterings that the purpose of my blog is merely to give those interested, an idea of what a Scottish Heidie gets up to each week or so. I also take the opportunity to share a few of my views about what’s happening in Scottish Education. This is a personal blog and the views expressed herein are all my own.

Last Sunday I had a pleasant sail into Tiree ready for a couple of days in my new school. The weather was cold but sunny and together with my two Westies we had a wee run about to get a feel for the place. Given the island is internationally renowned for its glorious beaches we couldn’t resist enjoying a lovely walk along Balephetrish beach. I’m well aware locals will say I should have gone to a number of more glorious beaches – the kids were quick to give that advice. I’m sure I’ll walk them all over the coming months.

The first Monday morning following anyone’s holiday can be a bit depressing but given I’m starting a fresh new chapter in my role as Head Teacher I found the early morning rise far less of a challenge and was indeed keen to get to work; or I was until I arrived to find the heating was on the blink. A quick call to my pal George Campbell, the Property Officer and soon after local contractor Kevin Brown is popping his head in the door with a big “All fixed now” grin. All those who complain about rural mañana attitudes have never met Kevin. Not only did he fix the heating within an hour, he had his boys starting work on new offices I only commissioned two weeks ago… and we had Christmas in the middle. Thanks Kevin!

The first task in any new term is to nip round and see as many staff and pupils as one can and following this break we visit classes to wish everyone a Happy New Year. On my travels I deliberately spent some time in the Gaelic Primary classes so I could learn another Gaelic phrase. I’m trying to learn one each day. “Shed de va ha” – “you’re welcome” is my latest lesson… no comment on the spelling is required thanks!

Regardless of whether I’m on Tiree or in Oban, each school requires my attention and each have tasks requiring to be completed, regardless of where I am. One of the most important tasks for a Heidie is to appoint staff. Monday saw me use video conferencing to take part in Principal Teacher of Guidance interviews and I’m pleased to report that I appointed Lee Dott to the position of permanent PT Guidance for Clan Ossian. This now ensures that we are up to full complement with four full time Guidance teachers for the first time in some months. Sadly we are still one DHT short, a shortage we have faced since the Summer. Given the wonderful school we work in, in beautiful surroundings, with international acclaim, a decent salary and staff accommodation provided if required, I simply cannot understand why Oban…. amongst most other rural schools face such staffing shortages.

However, not long to go I hope. Another job I completed was deciding on which candidates to interview for the DHT interviews next Friday and I am grateful that our OHS Parent Council Chair, Maggie will once again support us in choosing another DHT.

Following some work on Oban issues I returned my attention back to Tiree affairs and was interested in the pupil evaluation of the school canteen and what pupils thought of the food and the environment. All schools carry out such surveys and as such we are well aware that not all pupils are totally sold on eating in school canteens where the choice and ingredients are significantly limited by the Government’s healthy eating guidance. The flip side is that many do enjoy the food that school canteens provide, especially when the canteen listens to the desires of our pupils – hence the need for regular pupil surveys – tastes change.

The canteen in Oban provides a huge range of choice at breakfast, break and lunch and around half our pupils stay in school at lunchtime, especially on fish and chips or Brownie days; even with so many other venues to choose from nearby. A fantastic achievement and testimony to the talents of our kitchen staff.

Our OHS catering Manager, Donna, will travel to Tiree on the flight with me next Wednesday.

I think many people underestimate the importance of creating nice environments with good quality food as a pre-requisite for effective learning. Similarly people underestimate the importance of physical activity in preparing youngsters for effective learning and I was pleased to meet up with Primary classes engaging in their Daily Mile: a great national campaign to get kids active and set them up for the day. Whilst we don’t do the Daily Mile as a daily starter in Oban High, we do provide an excellent Breakfast Club where about 50 regulars appear each day. Please encourage your children to attend this free facility. It really does provide them with a great start to the day.

Monday progressed with a series of jobs too boring to dwell on in a blog: working on timetabling issues to make sure the right number of staff in classes this term; as well as preparing for next session. We are about to go through the pupil choice Options Process and that will require us to think about the next round of recruitment adverts in the next couple of weeks – for both schools.

This process involves a great deal of support from our excellent partnership with SDS and this year we have extended the one to one meetings between Guidance and pupils to include parents and a careers advisor. My aim is to ensure that pupils, and their parents, are given the best and most up-to-date advice possible before making choices. Far too often subject choices are being made after parents give advice to youngsters based on their own experiences from 20 or 30 years ago. Education today is a world away from those days. By inviting parents into school to watch lessons and by getting them to meet careers staff we hope to counter the misconceptions. Both Oban and Tiree will benefit from these initiatives over the coming months.

As well as working on contracts and recruitment issues I also spent time with my DHTs in both schools thinking about what professional learning opportunities we could provide between now and the Summer. One of the best development opportunities any member of staff can engage in is through sharing knowledge and experiences with colleagues in other schools. The partnership arrangement we are establishing between Oban and Tiree lends itself to this concept wonderfully. I am currently working on pairing every member of staff in Tiree with a partner in Oban so they can learn from each other. This seems to be proving quite a popular idea and I have already arranged partnership meetings between senior leaders; Guidance; Support; Science; English, Maths; RMPS; Post 16 PTs; Janitors, catering and Technicians. Other subjects will be aligned in the coming weeks.

In order to establish effective partnership working we must first establish good relationships and so I have been busy arranging reciprocal visits. I have the new Tiree PT Guidance and Support (Laura Kilpatrick) in Oban this week meeting her counterpart PTs (Claire Brady and Kirsteen Binnie) whilst Kevin Champion and Aine Cooney, both Senior DHTs began to take forward their remits together: and IT Technicians David Burt and Neil Connor are working together in Tiree for a few weeks.

Next week further partnerships will begin to flourish in Tiree with Murray Hamilton leading PE developments and supporting Lydia Macajova, David Kearns will work with Jo Bennett on Physics and Hannah Pyne will work with Peter McFarlane on RMPS developments. What members of staff learn from each other will be taken back to the wider faculty staff in each school.

I also set up further visits between staff for the rest of the month to support all subject areas and management, both in Primary and Secondary. However, more on how they pan out in a later blog.

Of course such a transformational change about the way in which we take forward the curriculum, learning and teaching and professional learning all requires planning and much of my time this week was spent discussing with all members of management (PTs and DHTs) in both schools aspects of our School Improvement Plan and School Review challenges. I led a whole staff meeting in Tiree on Monday morning and a management meeting after school; I did the same in Oban High on Tuesday evening. In both I reiterated our basic plans and expectations. In Oban I reminded staff of our Vision and ensured they planned to share this vision with all pupils in My Time classes, in PSEd classes and during weekly assemblies.

I also discussed some of the issues raised in the Pupil Forum discussions held in Oban just before we broke for Christmas (an exercise to be repeated in Tiree on Monday coming). Many pupils claimed not to understand why we taught compulsory PE, RMPS and Scottish Studies. When we explained (AGAIN) that we had to teach these subjects and that they got extra qualifications for them, their reply was more positive. This is a great example of why pupil forums with the ability to talk through questions and answers is a far better measure of what we need to do to improve that just churning out the far more usual questionnaires for people to tick away absentmindedly.

Tuesday saw me get an update on how the new school is progressing. I’m pleased to note that things are on schedule and that we will be done, dusted and open fully by the end of February/ start of March when the external parking and landscaping is complete. I also carried on my property discussions with discussions about new offices, heating system works; Astro turf lights and a new roof for Tiree.

 Wednesday saw me fly back into Tiree with Kevin Champion, my OHS Senior Depute making his first trip. Kevin’s role is to support and develop self-evaluation across both Oban and Tiree thus expanding the opportunities to share good practice and to moderate out-with our owns schools. This level of partnership working is highly desirable in ensuring we learn from each other.

Most of the day was spent either touring the school and meeting pupils and staff or sitting planning a development strategy with my Deputes. However, I did learn another Gaelic phrase from one of my Gaelic Primary classes, learned about the need to build bridges over lakes for trains to cross from an ELC pupil and met pupils practising for the school show, Oliver. I’m not sure the last meeting went according to plan as I have been roped into playing Mr Bumble. Only kidding. I’ll enjoy that experience. I used to be involved in amateur dramatics and performed in both comedy and musicals back in my home town of Musselburgh as a young man.

Another thing that didn’t go to plan was the plane being unable to fly back in to pick us up because of fog. Oh well, it allowed us to work on into the night and the VC facility meant I could still meet with my DHTs back in Oban. After an early start at school in Tiree, where I dealt with janitorial, catering, cleaning and property issues, Kevin and I hopped on the ferry back to Oban.

The ferry takes four hours but I can safely say that it can be a very productive time (as long as the WiFi is working) and this allowed me to liaise with Oban staff on new school building issues; staffing and contracts; new remits for all the staff partnering with Tiree staff; new road lay our discussions with Morrisons; the development of further qualifications for the senior school in both schools; worked up a up a new curriculum and dealt with rugby goals that weren’t in place. That’s the jobs I recall. I don’t usually list jobs because it’s boring and I’m pretty sure you’re not interested. However on this occasion it does serve to demonstrate that even when travelling it’s entirely possible for a Heidie to carry out their role from afar. I won’t reel off all the jobs done when I got back to school though I will repeat my thanks to Minnie MacLellan, the Head Teacher of St’ Columbus, whom I met after school to discuss support for Primary, ELCC and Gaelic in Tiree. Having found myself in charge of these unfamiliar territories after having spent over 20 years in Secondary, I am not so daft as to believe that I do not have a lot to learn and have consequently engaged the support of a very talented Primary Head with experience in ELC and Gaelic to add to my thoughts on these areas.

Friday saw me back to normal (whatever that is), walking the dogs early in the morning, one hand on a lead, the other with a mobile to my ear discussing transport and construction concerns before teaching my Advanced Higher History pupils all about how to pass their Dissertation.

Thereafter, I finished the week by catching up with Lynne the Head Janitor; Donna the Catering Manager; Nan Johnstone, who is going to write this year’s timetable, which we start writing now; Julie my Admin and Finance Assistant to make sure we’re not skint; Laura the new PT Guidance for Tiree who has been training in Oban all week; my SLT in Oban and my Senior DHT in Tiree thanks to VC.

I would normally add a wee section here on my thoughts around a national issue but it’s been a busy week and it’s my daughters 18th birthday today (yes, I’m that old) so I’ve run out of time. I hope you have a wee flavour of what I’ve been up to in week one of 2019.

Happy New Year!


Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

My last blog finished as we were preparing for our school Christmas dance, famously called The Jingles. It was the 31st Jingles and it was one to remember with over 400 senior pupils dancing the night away in the Corran Halls to a variety of acts: Ceol an aire opened, followed by The Chunks and closing with DJ Dave. I have to say a huge thank you to the senior pupils who, as part of their leadership course, organise both the senior and the junior Jingles Christmas dances; and of course all the staff who give up their time to supervise the events. The senior dance in particular requires staff to act as ticket sellers, cloakroom staff, serving staff, first aid responders, photographers, bouncers and for a few of us at the very end, cleaning staff. It’s a busy night indeed. It is no mean feat running an event of this size. Well done everyone. It went very smoothly indeed. Thanks to the Corran Halls staff who looked after us all throughout the evening.

Thanks to Kevin McGlynn for this great picture.

The last week of term began with a 4.30 a.m. start last Monday as I made my way down to the early morning ferry to Tiree. I had attempted to fly into Tiree the week before but the weather had other plans. With gales forecast for much of the early part of the week, I saw a wee opportunity to make sure I made it to school to meet my new pupils, staff and parents before the Christmas holiday.

As soon as I arrived I was met by smiley faces and a table full of welcome posters and cards, made by our Primary pupils. A lovely welcome indeed. My first task was to tour the school with my Depute in Tiree, Aine Cooney. Aine took me to classes across the school as I tried to meet every pupil and every member of staff on day one. I learned much about how the Early Learning and Childcare part of the school operated and I enjoyed sitting with the kids as they showed me their post office and how to count money. Next up was a visit to the Gaelic classes and I put into practice my very limited Gaelic vocabulary. Fortunately, I have found some very willing youngsters to teach me more. My plan is to visit them each morning I am in school and learn a phrase a day. It might take a while but I’ll get there. I did embark of a Gaelic Ulplan course a few years ago, so I’m hoping it might come flooding back.

Next up was a tour around the Primary classes and the chance to speak to more of our young pupils who were keen to tell me what they were learning that day. I’ll need a few more visits to start learning everyone’s names… something just not possible in Oban with more than a thousand faces to recall. Then it was into the High School classes so I could learn about how they were negotiating the curriculum, a bit about the run up to their exams and what the seniors did outside of school. I managed to drop in on the piping and drumming classes the following evening too. It will be good to tie up the pipe bands of both schools soon.

Supervising the canteen at lunchtime provided me with a new experience as I sat first with the Primary pupils asking them about how they liked the food, what they liked about School and how they spent their lunch hour… well they were my questions. The pupils were more keen to tell me about the football teams they liked, who they got on with, or didn’t, and what they thought about Tiree. The high school pupils likewise were completely unfazed by having their new Heidie sit with them and were very happy to answer all my questions about the food and about how to improve their lunchtime experience.

I have never been a teacher in a primary school but I have had a lot of experience in interacting with young children. When I was much younger I was a Sunday School teacher, a B.B. officer and I taught drama to primary children in Corstorphine, Edinburgh. All useful background experiences. In fact I originally sought to become a Primary Teacher before switching to do History at the last minute. I think I have much to learn from my Primary colleagues and have already engaged the support of Minnie Maclellan, the Head Teacher of St’ Columba’s Primary in Oban, but I think I shall enjoy the new experiences as much as I did all those years ago.

Much of my three days on Tiree was spent chatting to staff, evaluating current practice or just putting into place the first stages of a plan to take forward the School. The prerequisite to this plan was to share my vision to taking forward the School and determining if it chimed with others. I was pleased to note that no one raised objections to the proposed direction of travel and indeed by the Wednesday when I met parents, they seemed keen to work in partnership to achieve our aims. Indeed the initial meeting with parents led by the Head of Service, Louise Connor and the Policy Lead for Education, Councillor Yvonne McNeilly seemed very positive indeed.

All new Heads starting in any new school first need to set our their stall, then evaluate what existing good practice needs to be developed and what practice needs to change. To make any change happen effectively one must ensure there is a team in place to lead the change process. Having appointed Aine to the position of Senior Depute, it was necessary to ensure I also had Principal Teachers in place across the high school curriculum, in Primary / ELCC and in charge of Guidance and Support. Following a morning of discussions and interviews I was pleased that Julie Maclennan was willing to take on the PT Primary/ELCC role until interviews could be held and that Laura Kilpatrick was successful in securing the PT Guidance/Support role: a crucial position I feel every school should have and every pupil and parent should benefit from.

Much of the rest of my time was ensuring that the infrastructure for Tiree High School was put in place to facilitate a support package I am developing for all staff. To begin with I have worked with Education IT to establish a 1-1 VC system called Vscene that will aid communication between staff in Oban High and Tiree High… this will soon be enhanced yet further when the Council puts in a whole new communication network called Skype for Business, which will transform the quality of the phone/IT network massively.

It will also help the development of partnership working that is being established between my two schools, ensuring that almost every member of staff has a partner with whom they can share ideas; ask for support; work with on professional learning opportunities; use as part of the Moderation process; and link up with to take forward learning and teaching, and curriculum development.

I’ll share more in the future as we go forward with the plan to harmonise the learning, curriculum and systems in both schools, making sure the pupils in each have the opportunity to achieve the best possible qualifications whilst ensuring that we nurture and develop their social, emotional and vocational experiences and talents.

Of course just because I was on Tiree for a few days didn’t mean to say I was not taking forward Oban High at the same time and I ensured that I was in regular contact with my DHTs in Oban during what is one of the busiest weeks of the year. Monday was a busy time for Guidance and the Deputes but not necessarily for a good reason. Disappointingly they spent much of the time dealing with a high level of in-attendance as our records showed that only 80% of our pupils turned up for School. Despite our annual re-assurance that we continue to teach classes as normal and that by not turning up to school in the run up to a holiday pupils are missing a large amount of learning, we still have pupils opting to stay at home and parents either taking them down to Glasgow shopping, away for an early holiday or merely keeping the peace and keeping them off after listening to nonsense like “It’s the last week, we don’t do anything anyway” or “All we do is watch videos”. Every year we try to make sure we get as much teaching done as possible in the run up to the holiday, we have Prelims in January after all; and every year we remind parents we’re running classes as normal; and we remind teachers too not to give in to youngsters wanting an easy time and to keep teaching. It is quite frustrating for teachers eager to support pupils learning to find their efforts thwarted by “Holidayitis”, a not so rare illness only found around the end of a school term. I am aware this is a national phenomenon.

Most of the absences were in the senior school, no doubt linked to Senior Jingles having passed and the threat of missing the dance because of truancy no longer hanging over them. Junior Jingles on the other hand was held on Tuesday evening and that was very well attended, indeed perhaps the best attended in many years. I think the new school Atrium with all the Christmas lights, the huge Christmas tree and the new stage facilities with a fantastic sound and light system was a likely contributory factor as it made for a great venue. The Traditional School of Music musicians made sure the Ceilidh was a great success and DJ Dave was back making sure everyone had a fantastic party. Well done to all the staff who gave up their time.

Thanks to David McPhee for this picture.

Wednesday evening saw the annual Christmas Concert deliver another great set of performances. Alex Craik had his first stint as the Compère for the evening replacing Frank McKenna for the first time in ten years. And another first in that time was my absence from my duties as Trumpeter in the Orchestra. Sadly, I’ve been so busy of late I’ve missed too many practices with the band this year and I feared, as the only Trumpeter at this time, that my late arrival would have spoiled what was a brilliant performance. We now have another two Trumpeters in the wings, so next year I’ll get more practice in and make sure we play well together. The efforts that go into putting on this event from music staff, pupils and from the Parent Council are superb.

After flying back to Oban I was back at my OHS desk on Thursday and spent much of my time setting up meetings and planning schedules for coming back in January. How time flies! I can’t believe we’re nearly in 2019.

I did squeeze in a very enjoyable staff event on Thursday as I thanked Lucy Downie, Ali McCaig and Liam Rankin for their service to the School before they departed for exciting new jobs. I then went on to award the prizes for the best Christmas door. Seventy five entries was an outstanding number. Well done to all the staff and their pupils who took part in this first such competition. Hannah Stevenson won the judges vote and Nicola Hamilton won the people’s vote on Facebook.

By the last day of term, we were down to about 400 pupils, less than half our school roll. At this point, normal lessons cannot be achieved. Fortunately, that’s around the number the local Parish Church holds and it provides almost exactly the right number to pack the church and give the annual Christmas service a great atmosphere for the last big event of the session. This year the singing was once again in key and the band played perfectly the numerous Christmas carols that we all enjoyed. The key message this year, delivered by Jim Beaton and Chris Fulcher, was around “What Christmas means to us?” I closed the service by giving my view of what Christmas means to me.

Regardless of ones view of religion or of Christmas (it doesn’t matter what faith one has or none), what matters most is how we look after ourselves and others. I said that I believed that at this time of year there seems to be a greater degree of empathy, of compassion and of love for others… something I wish could be repeated all year round. I wished all my pupils and staff a lovely Christmas holiday and hoped that they would enjoy spending the time with their family, friends and loved ones.

Finally the term ended and our pupils departed to enjoy their holidays and all the staff came together for a banquet in the Atrium. It was a wonderful event where we sat and had lunch, brought by all the staff themselves, and we enjoyed each other’s company, chatting about the marvellous events of the week and about our forthcoming holiday. Some of us even won prizes in the Christmas raffle. I think this is only prize I’ve ever won at school.

It’s now Christmas Eve and time for me to stop working and enjoy a wee holiday. So I’ll close this year with my warmest wishes to all my readers and I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

And the awards go to….

My last few blogs have featured numerous examples of where I have had to attend meetings locally and nationally learning about plans and good practice across the country that will help all schools develop, including Oban and Tiree High Schools. This series of planning meetings and professional forums are condensed into the early part of the session every year. Now they have concluded it’s time to take the information gleaned and good practice observed forward in school.

So, I have been very pleased to have spent the last couple of weeks entirely in school working with my staff on developing and expanding the curriculum; discussing professional learning opportunities for staff that will help improve the pupils learning experience; observing classes and speaking to youngsters about how they have been getting on in and out of the classroom; and working with our new school team on ensuring all is going well as we reach the conclusion of the new school external works.

As I toured the external works this week, I was amazed at how large and open the new external space we have created by knocking down the old school really is. It is huge! That space will be used to create much needed parking for the school community and will provide a more suitable and safe bus park for the many buses we use to get our youngsters to school.

Of course it is not just parking spaces we are putting in. When I wrote the original bid for a new school to the Scottish Government, I included very prominently the need for additional outside social space, suitable for 1300 pupils. In the old school, because of numerous extensions, there was little play ground. The new school will see a large, wide, contoured avenue filled with benches set in a much more pleasant looking setting. It will all be finished by the end of February.

Most mornings I spend keeping an eye on our daily assemblies which on the run up to Christmas increasingly have a Christmassy theme injected into them each day. (I know that’s a made up word.) I think switching on our fantastic new Atrium ceiling lights and putting up the Christmas tree slightly earlier this year has set the tone for these three weeks.

Although I think the new Christmas door Clan challenge has become the talking point of our Christmas celebrations this year.

The effort that has been put into decorating classroom doors has been phenomenal. I think the promise of a great present to the staff with the best door and hundreds of points for the winning Clan class may have spurred them on. The competition was judged by Minnie MacLellan, the Head Teacher of St’Columba’s Primary School and Terry Donovan, member of our very supportive Parent Council.

The winner was Hannah Stevenson in Science. I gave an additional Heidie award to Morag MacKinnon.

Back to my morning routine. Each morning I have been practising Christmas Carols on the Trumpet with my young protege, Amber. I’m very grateful to Amber for her enthusiasm and dedication. With me having to attend so many after school meetings in the last couple of months I have sadly missed the band practice each Tuesday and I am woefully in need of practice. Hopefully together we will be ready to join the others in the band at next Wednesdays Christmas Cracker concert, to be held in the school at 7 pm. Better get your tickets early, seats are limited to the first 400.

Another routine I am pleased to get back into is seeing my Advanced Higher History pupils each day. We have just finished learning about how the Weimar Republic came to an end, partly as a result of social and economic factors arising from the Wall Street Crash’s effect on Germany, partly by the rise of Hitler and the Nazi movement, caused by many other factors going on in Germany at the time.

When not teaching kids or meeting contractors, I’m meeting mangers to look at taking the school forward and the pressing issue at the moment is changes to the curriculum. Aileen Jackson, PT Raising Attainment and Aisling Clark, PT Developing the Young Workforce have both been leading a piece of work for me and collaborating with Faculty PTs to look at additional qualifications that we can put in place for our pupils. The SQA have a huge suite of courses that go far beyond the usual twenty or so traditional courses taught in every school. There is an additional group of courses referred to as National Progression Awards. These are designed to allow youngsters who have an interest in a particular subject, for example Food Technology, to expand their interest in a more vocationally honed way, whilst allowing the accumulation of an additional award, for example an NPA in Bakery – which we teach just now. Our task this session is to ensure that every subject provides an additional qualification alongside the traditional subjects to make sure our youngsters develop as many skills; and acquire as many relevant qualifications as they can so they can compete in the jobs market when they leave us.

This was an aim I shared with Tiree High School staff when I met them for the first time on Wednesday, though not quite in the way I imagined I would. I had planned to meet all the staff and parents at the school, along with my colleagues, Yvonne McNeilly, the policy lead for education; Douglas Hendry, Director of Community Services; Councillor Roddy McCuish and Louise Connor, Head of Service. However as we sat at the airport enjoying the hospitality from the excellent Oban Airport staff member, Dixie, we soon learned from Julie, the Pilot for the day, that we may not get out to Tiree and we certainly wouldn’t be getting back. No problem however, as a few calls back to the schools and we at least managed to sort out video conferencing for all the staff and we arranged to meet the parents next week.

As well as discussing my aims for enhancing the senior curriculum in both Oban and Tiree; and answering many good questions from staff, I did dwell on the benefits of new technology for communicating across rural areas and for teaching.

As my regular readers will know, the role of the Head Teacher is to lead the school. But, to do so well requires that the Head Teacher keeps up to date with national, even international best practice; keeps up to date with changes to the legislation, the guidance from the Scottish Government, Education Scotland, HMIe, SQA et al; and from professional learning provided by the local authority or from agencies like School Leaders Scotland and the Scottish College of Educational Leadership; and in the case of a Heidie with a new school, to meet with architects and contractors weekly. To keep pace with all this new practice, legislation and guidance requires Head Teachers to be out of school, a lot. How then do we manage our schools? Firstly we put in place good leaders throughout the school. In my case, I have a Senior Depute Head Teacher employed in both Oban and Tiree High Schools, as well as a number of Principal Teachers across the areas of curriculum and support, all charged with making sure the polices and plans of the school are implemented in my absence and all ensuring that all staff play their part in keeping the pupils motivated and succeeding. Additionally in Oban I have three other DHTs as well as office, janitorial, catering and cleaning managers all making sure that all aspects of the school are being well led.

To keep track of progress and to support staff I use my iPhone and iPad a lot. They prove to be invaluable as I check on progress whilst travelling to and from meetings or other school visits. Any support required for a manager back in school can easily be done through guidance from myself via a quick phone call or email to whomever is best placed to help the member of staff with a question.

Taking the use of IT a step further is my desire to use a VC facility called Vscene. This is the software used to teach the e-Sgiol classes I mentioned in my last blog. Gary Clark from Education IT has been superb in supporting me in taking this forward and I am now able to use VC from any device, in any room, in any building (even from the car, train or ferry) to have meetings with any member of my staff in either school and many in other schools or in the Education Department. Although I could do this by phone and email before, actually seeing someone and sharing documents visually is a big step forward as subconsciously seeing someone during a conversation gives greater clarity, understanding and confidence during a discussion.

It is my intention to roll this out into classrooms to make sure that pupils have access to courses otherwise not available to them because of a lack of teacher in a particular area or merely to cover a short term absence if no supply cover is available. There are of course limits to which courses this will benefit. More to follow next year on this.

The last couple of days have been hectic with recognising success. I was privileged to have been invited to the Regional Netball finals where I watched a hugely competitive seniors game between Lochaber High School and Oban. Lochaber managed to clinch the game in the final minute leaving our Oban girls frustrated, especially given they netted a second after the final whistle that would have led to extra time.

That was a similar disappointing end to the conclusion of the Rugby Under 15s Scottish Plate Final at Murrayfield where our team, whom had dominated the game until Kenny Gray got injured in the last ten minutes, lost the pace and a final try in the last seconds of the game to see a very experienced Galashiels pip them to the post.

Another award we received this week was the My World of Work Young Ambassadors Award. This was to recognise the commitment of some of our senior and S3 pupils who have undertaken to act as My World of Work Ambassadors, going around the High School and out across our 19 partner primaries promoting to all pupils an understanding about the importance of skills and experiences as well as qualifications to better prepare them for undertaking their journey through school to employment. Given this is the essence of my vision for Oban and Tiree High Schools, I was particularly pleased to receive this Award along with our pupils at OHS.

The next competition to note was Kirsty MacIntyre’s Mascot competition. As part of her Scottish Studies qualification, Kirsty had to lead and organise an event. Following on from an example she was aware of at Atlantis Leisure and seeing a gap in what we have in school, (no school mascot), I gave her permission to run a competition to establish an Oban High School Mascot. After many weeks of youngsters working hard on their designs, the day arrived for Kirsty, along with seven fellow judges to choose a winner. Bid4Oban kindly donated the prizes.

The judges used a scoring system to decide on the top three best designs, arriving at a decision that saw a joint first place award. The winners, that led to the creation of a pair of Mascots were Neve Davies and Katie Barlow. Each drew a picture of a School Westie, one a boy and one a girl… hence their idea to have a pair of Mascots. Well done to both. I’m a wee bit biased given I have two Westies. But, there were many judges!!!

Normally I finish my blog on a Friday night or Saturday morning but given it’s the Senior Jingles tonight, arguably the biggest event in Oban’s social calendar, then I think I may be a bit tied up tonight and shattered tomorrow after all the dancing, so I’ll close early this week.

It’s a busy week next week with Junior Jingles, the Christmas Cracker Concert, various Christmas festivities and two trips to Tiree, so look out for even more news next weekend.

A long and winding road

One of the highlights of last week, other than getting the chance to have a look round the classes or teach my Advanced Higher History class was to attend the Parent Council AGM on Monday evening. There was not a huge turnout but those that did attend rose to the challenge and volunteered to either remain or join the Parent Council.

Everyone in our Parent Council is enthusiastic and dedicated as the Chair, Maggie Thorpe noted in her Annual Report:

“The Parent council currently has 31 members and tonight will be our 4th meeting of 2018. The Parent Council comprises both parents and teachers, including Mr Bain. Throughout the year the teachers on the group have delivered regular reports on staffing, funding, exam performance and the New School. Specific topics, such as Poverty Equity Funding, Raising Attainment, and Parental Engagement, have also been discussed at our meetings. The School Improvement Plan was shared with us for information and comment, and we were recently involved in a survey about the timing of School holidays.

ln June we represented parents at interviews for senior management appointments and will do so again this week. One of our parent members attended the Argyll & Bute Parent Council Conference in lnveraray on our behalf. Our fundraising subgroup have had an active and productive year. Ongoing methods which continue to run throughout the year are The Weather Lottery and Easyfundraising. From September we. have added a new regular fundraiser called The 100 CIub, which is a monthly draw with cash prizes. The winners are drawn by pupils at Assembly towards the end of each month. Anyone can join, so please sign up and encourage friends and family too – the more members we have, the more profit we make for Oban High School.

At Charities Day in June we had a stall selling fabulous home-baking which was provided by Mrs Mackinnon’s 53 classes in Food Technology. As it was a really sunny day and about 26 degrees in the shade, we wished we had chosen to flog ice-cream and cold drinks!

We have also been working hard to raise our profile over the year. This has included meeting parents at the 51 lnduction evening and at Prize-giving. We have been providing refreshments for teachers and parents at all the Parents’ Evenings throughout the term, and we will be doing so again at the Christmas Cracker Concert, where we will also have a raffle.This week we are in the school every lunchtime promoting re-use of party outfits with a Jingles Clothes Swap initiative, and we are planning a pampering evening closer to the party season with help and advice on hair and nails.”

On Tuesday I attended the Argyll and Bute Joint Services Committee, which is comprised of members of all the trade unions and members of Education management. I represent the Secondary Heads on the group as part of the management team. I have to say that both sides work very well together and have a shared understanding of what we all want to achieve to provide a great educational experience for all our youngsters.

I spent Wednesday Interviewing for the position of Depute Head Teacher along with the Parent Council Chair, Maggie Thorpe and the Head Teacher of Hermitage Academy, Robert Williamson. Together we were able to appoint two acting Depute Head Teachers: Sam Martin, currently PT Expressive Arts in OHS and Iain Morrison, former DHT of Beaconhurst. Both start on our return after the Christmas holiday.

I was originally only seeking one DHT but in the interim Alex Craik, currently DHT has indicated a desire to return to his Guidance Teacher position; a role he both loved and excelled in. I would like to say a huge thank you to my excellent DHT Alex for all he has done for the school, and me personally.

I was fortunate to once again attend the School Leaders Scotland Conference last Thursday and Friday. This is a fantastic professional learning opportunity for all Heads, Deputes, Principal Teachers and Business Managers from across the country to come together to listen to guest speakers and attend numerous workshops.This year’s theme was on “Improving through collaboration”.

The first keynote speech of the conference was delivered by Janie McManus, the Assistant Strategic Director of Inspection in Education Scotland. For those unable to attend, may I suggest you read How Good is Our School 4 and you’ll be fine.

Next up were four workshops. Andy Griffiths, Lead Officer of the Northern Alliance Regional Improvement Collaborative (RIC) described how the RICs were developing and in particular the strengths of collaborative working; strengths that include being able to enhance professional learning, promoting and sharing good practice; being able to provide subject and sector-specific support and advice; and being able to develop particular work streams that actually deliver impact in the classroom. Two examples of this impact in Argyll and Bute is demonstrated through the literacy and the early years work-streams.

I found what Andy had to say about the RICs most interesting.

He noted that the Regional Collaboration challenge is about how we achieve meaningful discussion and that evidence suggests across all sectors that collaboration makes a difference. However, he was also clear that the collaboration should not add just another layer of bureaucracy. It should not be something that is just dressed up as collaboration. Collaboration does not prove anything unless we can prove impact… and generating evidence should not be the end in itself. Well said Andy!

In a question time session on the Friday afternoon, Andy added the importance of Head Teacher empowerment and asked the gathered audience to consider three basic questions that required an answer to ensure the Regional Improvement Collaboratives would survive, and thrive.

How do we involve teachers… and pupils and parents?

How can we embed collaboration more fully in schools?

How can HTs play the lead role in communicating and leading the output of the RICs?

Those in the audience were supportive but still shard concerns about the new RICs. There was criticism about geographical concerns hampering collaboration. The Northern Alliance in particular is far too large an area for regular meetings. However, Andy reminded everyone that we need to be able to work together in a number of ways and we don’t always have to meet face to face all the time.

Regional Improvement plans are all different and not shared was another complaint raised: but should they all be the same? How would that help develop new ideas or help with local variations?

Finally, there was concern about doubling up the workload, the number of plans and the amount of education staff out of schools. Why do we need central teams and RIC teams? Andy replied that the RIC collaboration and the importance of HT empowerment meant that most councils were reducing their central education staff.

Ken Muir, the Chief Executive of the General,Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) led a session on how the Strategic Board for Teacher Education impacts on the work of senior leaders and he discussed teacher workforce planning and about developing more IT programmes to help with distance learning.

Ken noted that vacancies across Scotland were decreasing but that their were still shortages in STEM subjects. Also one of the biggest recruitment issues was the cost of living especially in the north east, which creates issues with probationers and those on low salaries with rents at £1000 a month. This is equally true for rural areas like Argyll and Bute in my view.

GTCS called half of the 880 staff that left the profession last year. The reasons given for leaving included not being able to find work (moving out of the central belt would be my answer to that one) and moving abroad for more money.

Ken finished with a question of his own during Question Time. What more can we do to talk up teaching? This was also a theme in Billy Burke’s Presidential address. Billy, the Head Teacher of Renfrew High School has just been elected as the new President of School Leaders Scotland. He is a very good HT and a very pleasant, supportive colleague. I wish him well in his new position.

Andy Bruce, civil servant in Learning Directorate, led another workshop on Curriculum and Assessment. His presentation was quite short as he left more time for those attending to share their opinions on whether or not a Curriculum for Excellence was working. Everyone agreed that the vision and the ideology for CfE was excellent but that the examination system was getting in the way of achieving the CfE ideals. The Broad General Education was being eroded to take into account the ever increasing assessment demands of national certified traditional courses.

What we do about this problem split the room. Some wanted all the changes to stop, there’s been too many already. Others wanted to scrap the whole assessment model and start again, it is so damaging to our pupils. I fall into the latter camp.

Andy explained that the Scottish Government is making a determined effort to move from assessment to a greater focus on curriculum, it’s rationale and it’s design and development. We need to make sure that what is done, makes a difference he said whilst acknowledging the need for clarity, consistency and an end to change at some point.

We need to empower the Head Teachers and communities to deliver the changes was his final message in the Question Time session, mirroring every other speaker.

Janet Brown, the Chief Executive of the SQA, noted that future skills will be different and asked, what will the assessment need to look like?

We need to end changes in qualifications but we still need to assess what we are assessing based on changes in teaching, skills etc right now. A dilemma for the SQA.

A further dilemma is getting parents and wider society to accept the change. Janet also had questions for the audience. The piece of paper has no value in itself, it is only a piece of paper to show someone what a person has passed. So should the assessments be personalised, should it be more skills oriented rather than subject based? She asked.

Next to the workshops, I found the Question Time to panel members most interesting.

How far do you think Scottish society values teachers?

Ken Muir replied: Most parents value teachers and education. The problem is media. Bad news sells so the media warps society’s views of schools and teachers is broken. And, it is especially screwed for members of society who don’t have children.

Andy Bruce replied: John Swinney is putting HTs right at the front of the decision making process because they are best placed to lead schools… LAs should support their decisions, enable the decisions to move forward and accept their role is to support this change.

There was a question about published results and how they overly focus on a core set of traditional exams instead of the full range of skills and experiences pupils need to get jobs.

All the panel members agreed that in response to the PISA tables and to the second Tuesday in August problem when then initial results are published; that we need to get far better at having a more holistic measure of success based on the four capacities rather than just the tests.

The next question: How do we address the problem that universities are driving schools curriculum because they are not changing their basic entry requirement… 5 Highers?

Janet Brown replied that we need to ask universities why they are asking for 5 Highers in one sitting. If it is merely to prove pupils can deal with stress and breadth, then we need to make it clear that there are other ways to measure this. She went on to say we need to change the conversation along the lines of… this pupil can do 3 Highers but also did all these other things that were demanding in terms of time and complexity. And very importantly we also need to stop focusing on the publication of basic results in August as this warps public perceptions and ignored all the other results the SQA, and other bodies, add to Insight after August.

Andy Bruce shared his view that we need to be careful not to undermine the independence of Universities but we also need to steer them towards a realisation that the 5 Highers demand is hampering a need to develop the wider achievement agenda necessary to develop society and prepare our pupils for the workplace.

Maureen McKenna, the Executive Director of Glasgow who Chaired Question Time, said we need to work with employers to develop “Success Profiles”. Some big companies are now trialling doing blind interviews where they don’t look at results but test for skills and experiences relevant to the job. This is likely to be expanded and we need to prepare our children better.

How do we ensure that there will not be duplication across the RIC and the LAs. There seems to be a growing number of staff being employed by the RIC to do jobs already covered by LAs.

Maureen also responded to the question: How do we ensure that there will not be duplication across the RIC and the LAs. There seems to be a growing number of staff being employed by the RIC to do jobs already covered by LAs? by noting the need to ensure that we don’t establish a bureaucracy that is there for the sake of having meetings for the sake of meetings or having two people in every role.

Andy Griffiths replied that different LAs have different systems; a few are growing central teams but most are cutting them. He also noted that it was important to use LA staff to populate the RICs but there is a misconception that they are necessarily needed to attend lots of meetings. We need to think of ways to work smarter whilst collaborating. It’s the doing bit that counts, not the meeting bit.

The penultimate question was about the likely forthcoming strikes. Strikes severely damaged schools and education in the 1980s. Would you support an independent review in the event we can’t agree a settlement by Christmas?

No one answered this

The final question was about Cognitive load theory.

No one understood this.

This week started with an In-service Day. It was packed with professional learning events. I opened the day as usual with a speech about our vision and values, my high expectations for all staff and pupils; and reinforcing that I expect staff to understand that many of our children are not perfect, indeed when they attend class, they may be doing so after significant home life stresses. It for this reason that we endeavour to use our daily My Time classes as a first line Guidance / pastoral care provision.

The next session was split into three levels of ability, with staff teaching others all about Google Classroom. Iain Morrison (not the new one – we now have two Iain Morrison’s – both in Science), Damian Heaney, Colin Carswell and Iain Fulton all helping lead his staff training. It worked well. After that, Departments came together to look at updating and amending the departmental improvement plan for the school in a session led by Kevin Champion. Finally in the afternoon, Kirsteen Binnie and Fiona Wilson led a session of assessment and Moderation in an effort to improve the quality of the pupil learning experience.

I think this is a great example of how we try to develop leadership at all levels, a key theme this morning.

Wednesday saw me attend the Argyll and Bute Joint Head Teacher meeting in Inveraray, where all the Primary and Secondary Heads come together to listen to presentations and take part in collaborative discussions on a number of themes.

The morning opened with a huge success story from Louise Connor, Head of Service, who reported back from the HMIe thematic inspection of Education in Argyll and Bute. Head Teachers across the Authority reported back to the HMIe that the development in areas such as head teacher empowerment; the development of the curriculum; improvements in literacy and numeracy; collaborative working; improvements in the staffing programme leading to a greater impact on successful teacher recruitment… amongst many others was hugely positive. There has been a massive improvement agenda led by Anne Paterson and Louise Connor over the last couple of years. Their efforts to work with Head Teachers have ensured that the positive remarks to the HMIe are wholly justified in my view. Well done to both!

Next up was a repeat presentation on Regional Collaborative developments by Andy Griffiths, the Lead Officer, of the Northern Alliance Regional Improvement Collaborative. He repeated the message that collaboration is crucial but collegiality is the ultimate aim. The difference between collaboration and collegiality may be slight but in reality collaboration requires conscious effort, whilst collegiality should be subconsciously seamless. This will take time and most certainly a shared vision and a commitment by all to engage in my view.

The afternoon session began with a workshop delivered by Dunoon Grammar’s DHT, Kirsty Campbell, who brought along a few pupils to describe their involvement in developing a self evaluation tool, self evaluating lessons, the school etc. This was a very interesting presentation and although much of the traditional observation exemplars are already in use in OHS, what I admired most was the development of using pupils in the self-evaluation observation process and how they linked it all to Education Scotland’s new pupil friendly self evaluation tool “How Good is OUR School”… or wee HGIOS. The kids were great and Oban has much to learn from this initiative.

Thursday opened with a meeting with Angus Maclellan, the Head Teacher of e-Sgiol. e-Sgiol is basically teaching on line; an educational opportunity that I think all schools should explore. It is based in the Western Isles but provides support for any Authority who wishes to buy into the provision. I have previously written about the importance of taking forward the idea of Virtual Schools. I believe that developing this idea will ensure that our pupils have even more access to a wider range of subjects that we perhaps were unable to access with existing staff in the area. I also believe that pupils in every school should be able to access the same level of choice as we in Oban can provide. Angus stressed that the key to success is by providing real time teaching.

Friday closed with three things that pleased me greatly. Firstly, I took the opportunity to go and find Eva MacColl and say a huge well done. Eva came 4th at the International Gathering of Scottish Highland Dancing in Paris. A fantastic achievement.

Next up was a Video Conference with the Parent Council Chair and Vice Chair of Tiree High School, Jen and Will. I feel very honoured to have been approached to take on the role of Executive Head Teacher of both Tiree and Oban High Schools. This is a short term role following the resignation of the current Tiree HT, Graham Wilks.

Taking on the role of HT for both schools is a fantastic opportunity to build on the talents and strengths of staff in each school, working collaboratively to ensure that we get the best out of our staff and resources so we can provide the best possible qualifications for all, whilst ensuring that we nurture and develop pupils social, emotional and vocational talents. It shouldn’t matter what school we are in. Every pupil deserves the best we can provide in terms of care and education and for the short time I lead both schools, I will ensure all my pupils have the best chance possible to achieve this vision.

Finally, we finished slightly earlier today so we could bring the school together in the Atrium for our big Christmas lights switch on. We have just installed a ceiling of light and a brand new Christmas tree befitting our new school. Ashley, won the chance to switch on the lights and Matthew the chance to DJ the Christmas karaoke and at 3.30 everyone went WOW as the school let up and the first of many, many Christmas tunes began.

The countdown is on… next up… Jingles. It’s going to be busy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A great way to end another busy week.

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

Lessons for life

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

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

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

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

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

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

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

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

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

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,

And stoop and build ‘em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

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

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

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

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch;

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

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

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run—

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

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

BBC news: International interest in OHS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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