Keeping calm

Another early Monday morning start saw me join some Oban colleagues at Oban International ready to head off to Tiree to take forward some collaborative approaches to PE and RMPS. Murray Hamilton, typically for a PE Teacher turned up in shorts whilst the rest of us shivered away in our overcoats.

Also in attendance was Hannah Pynne who was going over to work with Peter McFarlane on developing an RMPS course and Jemma Playfair, DHT, who was focused on carrying out a pupil voice evaluation of what pupils thought of their environment, learning, curricular opportunities, school uniform and relationships with others.

I spent most of the day on the phone to Oban staff or face to face with Tiree staff negotiating a temporary curriculum for January to May. This temporary curriculum will ensure that almost all our pupils are fully engaged in learning and teaching and will allow some additional qualifications to be gathered by the end of the session. The on-going harmonisation of the Curriculum in each school will gather pace as time goes on and we can get every PT and/or subject specialist in each school to work together in a collegiate and planned manner. This will take a few weeks. Rome wasn’t built in a day as they say.

I did get the chance to nip round and see a few classes however. I met one Primary class coming back from their Pupil Voice session with Jemma, high as kites demanding a new uniform… whilst all wearing uniform. That was the last of about a dozen questions Jemma asked them. I must remember to put the learning and teaching question last next time I think, so that’s the one fresh in their minds.

I also got the chance to nip along to the Primary Gaelic classes to learn my daily phrase… “Je ha hoo a geecan?” or What are you eating? Native Gaelic speakers must be cringing at my phonetics in an effort to learn a few phrases. Tha mi duilich.

Spending time with Murray is often enlightening, fun…. and expensive. Enlightening as I learned a little more about his views on how best to ensure that every single pupil in school can achieve a PE Nat 4 at the very least; fun seeing him and Lydia crawl about the staff room floor with the biggest curriculum map I’ve ever seen.. and expensive as he just convinced me to build a fitness gym with running machines, weights etc. in Tiree. Whilst we don’t have the ability to match the state of the art one in OHS, we will at least develop a new resource previously unavailable.

I shall also add one further adjective to describe Murray, and his staff. Infectious. The enthusiasm and commitment they have for providing the best education possible, to develop excellent relationships with their pupils and to ensure their youngsters get access to the widest range of courses and experiences they can possibly offer rubs off on so many others, that they too wish to go the extra mile for our kids. And, that’s both in the High School and in the Primaries we teach in. I look forward to seeing these developments pan out in the coming weeks. We are sending two PE staff, Greg and Jenny over to plan a PE curriculum with Lydia the week after next, similar to the curriculum we deliver in St’ Columba’s, Park, Rockfield, Lochnell and Dunbeg… through into OHS.

One of the best developments I have encouraged, in partnership with some of my Primary Head colleagues is that of our PE staff going out to many of our partner primaries and taking a lead for the PE curriculum, as well as teaching our future pupils through the Primary years.

The benefits for the pupils is that they get a subject specialist teaching them knowledge and skills at an early stage, which is built on by specialist staff, year after year until they reach the high school having followed a progressive programme that allows them to seamlessly transition into the next stage of their learning in a new school but with familiar routines and teachers. The benefit for the Primary staff is that it allows them non-contact time where they can choose to develop other specialist areas we cannot provide. The benefit for the secondary PE staff is that it allows them to teach at a more advanced level in S1 than would otherwise be the case had they not had the opportunity to develop the seamless course and build the skills and expectation levels. It is perhaps for this reason that we are now in the rare position for a secondary school that we can almost guarantee every pupil an extra National qualification in PE by the end of S4. An aim now planned for in Tiree.

Tuesday’s main event was having to announce to our Oban staff at the evening staff meeting that once again the HMIe Inspectors will be in our school. Along with dozens of other schools we are contributing to the gathering of evidence on how well the curriculum is doing across Scotland. Although one is never entirely happy about being inspected… no one likes a test, it is an opportunity to have someone from outside our organisation have a look at what we are doing and give some tips for improvement. That can only be a good thing.

I read an interesting article recently in the Times Educational Supplement for Scotland (TESS). This is a magazine publication full of educational articles and jobs across the country / world. Every teacher should read the TESS for the articles, most use it for the jobs. The article in question was around why we demonise the Inspectorate; create a picture, indeed an expectation, of them as incompetent monsters out to get us. Why have schools painted such pictures for generations? A friend of mine, who held a senior role in the HMIe once described a fellow colleague “As somewhat right of Ghengis Khan”.Whilst this may have been true, as there are inevitably one or two such fiends out there in every walk of life, I have been fortunate to have been inspected in three schools and found most HMIe are there to help us. Graham Norris was an HMI that I had great deal of respect for as he both praised and advised on improvement in a manner that ensured staff felt valued. Most do likewise.

The key to success is, as the article noted, to play the game; to prepare fully; to be positive; and to show off our best work. Too often teachers and schools believe they should not have to put on a show. They do. The HMI only see a snapshot of what we do in a day. That snapshot needs to show us in our Sunday best and this was the message to my staff.

Wednesday saw me back in Tiree, this time accompanied by David Kearns, one of our Science teachers who was going out for a couple of days to work on developing a new Science curriculum and to offer support as part of our new partnership programme, ensuring that we can learn from each other across the schools. He also paired up with David Burt, one of our Technicians who is again working on IT developments with a Neil Connor.

This partnership work was further advanced on Thursday and Friday when Kevin Champion, Senior DHT, and Aisling Clark, PT for Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) exchanged places with me and Aine Cooney. Kevin worked on building relationships with staff and held pupil assemblies outlining developments and he introduced a new series of lessons using inter-disciplinary learning to S1-3. These lessons are designed to replace an existing course and which could lead to additional early level qualifications. Aisling on the other hand was there to partner with Jayne Smith, who is the PT DYW, and together they will introduce three new courses immediately, all of which could lead to extra qualifications for senior pupils by June. These were Scottish Studies, the SQA’s Leadership Award and Customer Services. The latter two have proven to be of great interest to employers and so having them on ones SQA certificate can be very useful in securing an interview for a job.

Our new school in Oban is nearly finished, although we still have work to do. On a very cold Thursday morning I had to spend time braving the elements to check on progress with the new road and new car parking, bus turning and pupil drop off areas, as well as discussing landscaping, external seating, types of hardcore needing laid etc. I then went to check on the progress with our additional Piping and Drumming Pavillon. I can’t wait. The indoor facility is first class, the outdoor environment will also be great. Given we only had a hundred yard stretch of playground in the old school for 1200 pupils, the expanse of social space we have created on the site of the old school will give our pupils the space they deserve.

I had the pleasure of discussing both the above issues (our superb curriculum and our fantastic new school) to the ladies of the Inner Wheel as I gave them a two and a half hour tour on Thursday evening. This tour was even longer than the one I gave to their male counterparts in the Rotary Club. I spent this amount of time with my guests because they showed a genuine interest in the work of our staff, of the successes of our pupils; and of how Education was ever changing. It was a very interesting time.

The Rotary Club is a wonderful organisation. Members give up their time and volunteer their services to many a good cause. They also fundraise for the benefit of many local, national and international causes. Oban High school benefits on a regular basis, most prominently at the moment through their support of our Laurinburg Exchange. I also squeezed in attending a parent meeting on the Laurinburg Exchange this week where I was reminded that this is the 27th such exchange trip between pupils of Scotland High School in Laurinburg, North Carolina and OHS. The commitment by members of the Rotary Club in both towns and from our OHS staff is commendable. Pupils from Laurinburg will be in Oban in June; the Oban pupils will go to Laurinburg in October.

The highlight for Friday was interviewing for, and appointing a new Depute Head Teacher, Lauren Morrison. Lauren will take up her post with us after the Easter Holiday. My thanks to Maggie Thorpe, our Parent Council Chair and to Aine Cooney for sitting on the panel with me. Thanks also to my excellent Head Boy, Angus Neil for being such a wonderful host and tour guide to all the candidates. It is never an easy task to be involved in appointing staff. It is a huge responsibility to get it right for the school and it’s pupils, and a huge emotional commitment knowing that such decisions can have life changing effects on someone’s career and family.

On the subject of staffing changes. I would like to say well done to Duncan Sinclair who has secured a new position as Teacher of Maths in Elgin High School. Duncan is an excellent teacher and will be greatly missed. Fortunately, I have a good relationship with Hugh McCulloch, the Heidie in Elgin and he has very kindly agreed I can keep Duncan until Easter, ensuring all his certificated classes won’t be affected.

Three class highlights from my tour round the classes this week. Firstly was watching Greg and Neil in PE use a Ghetto Blaster on the pitch to try and motivate our boys to run round the pitch a wee bit more briskly that usual. Work in progress boys. The second, also on the subject of walking was bumping into a few of my kids from our Support Department coming back from their Daily Mile walk. I mentioned in last weeks blog we didn’t do a Daily Mile in Oban as well. Oops! Sorry Kirsteen. Finally, having one of my Tiree Primary classes sing the full version of Katie Beardie to me. Fantastic!

Friday finished with me turning up to the staff football for the first time since August. I think I may have to take part in the Daily Mile next week and try and get back into fitness again.

I was just about to end here and post this blog when I got stuck for a title. On reflection I chose the title “Keeping calm”. Oban High is in the middle of a very stressful time just now as we are in the middle of the prelims. Pupils are stressed, teachers are stressed. There are pupils out of normal classes and making their way around the school out with our normal changeovers and our canteen is dealing with pupils constantly trying to squeeze in breaks and lunches between exams. Despite this disruption to the normal school day a number of visitors to the school have taken time to say how calm our school is. Exam invigilators, candidates for jobs, guests linked to building the new school and Council workers have all been in school during this very busy week and have been so impressed by the maturity and work ethic of our pupils. Such calm comes from the hard work and support given to our pupils. If they were not being taught well, or given support by staff, then pupils would not be as content as they are for so many guests to note the positive ethos in our school. Well done everyone.


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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