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!

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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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