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.