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!

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Author: Peter Bain

I have been the Head Teacher of Oban High School since 2008. I previously worked as a DHT in Eyemouth High School in the Scottish Borders; as a Principal Teacher in Balwearie High School, Kirkcaldy and Kirkland High School, Methil; and as a class teacher in Trinity Academy in Edinburgh and Viewforth High School in Kirkcaldy. Although born in sunny Leith near the hallowed ground of Easter Road, I am really from Musselburgh where I spent most of the first 30 years of my life. I went to Edinburgh University in 1990 and attained an MA (Hons) and an MSc before going to Strathclyde to pick up my PGCE (with Distinction) in 1997. I returned to Edinburgh University to complete my Scottish Qualification for Headship and Post Graduate Diploma in Educational Leadership and Management in 2008. The purpose of my blog is to give an insight into my working life, although a wee bit of my personal life and views will inevitably arise. Although I am writing about my experiences at work and these are shared by the school's social media functions, this is not an Oban High School blog and the views expressed are all my own.

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