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.


Author: Peter Bain

I have been the Head Teacher of Oban High School since 2008. Most recently, I also took on the role as the Head Teacher of both Oban High School and Tiree High School (which includes a Primary School and Early Learning Centre) as Executive Head Teacher. 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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