How do you like your tea? Strong.

A short blog.

“No blog last week. Shocking! What on earth were you up to Bain?”

With the HMIe about to descend on Oban High tomorrow as part of a national thematic inspection on how head teachers and their schools have been empowered to develop the curriculum, my attentions have been largely focused on ensuring that we re-evaluate our curriculum and prepare the reports necessary before their arrival; as well as meeting with all the staff, parents, pupils and local organisations and businesses that will be interviewed to determine our successes and further development needs. It’s all rather time consuming but I have to say a very valuable exercise as it does force us to take stock of our vision, values, aims and ensure we measure the impact on the pupils of all that we have been striving for.

This external evaluation comes close on the heels of another. “The Good School’s Guide” is a totally independent review publication which sends their staff the length and breadth of the UK reporting on schools’ care and education as a way of informing parents who are thinking about where they would like to send their children. As you are well aware parents living in a rural area like Argyll tend to send their children to the local school; but not always. We have lots of pupils who choose to come to Oban instead of other school catchment areas or even from abroad because of the breadth of qualifications we offer. I’m not permitted to share the full review with you (you’ll need to buy the next GSG update if you wish) but I can offer you a teaser or two:

“If you have a vision of secondary education as a linear, largely shared academic experience with national exams strategically placed along the way, think again. Oban High school probably more than any other secondary school we have visited has fully embraced the idea of the Curriculum of Excellence and shaping an education to each individual child.”

“We struggle to describe this as a school: more a complete educational experience. Inspiring leadership has meant they tackle a huge and complex catchment area with commitment and dedication.”

“Peter Bain may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he is a man with a strong vision and a passion for education.”

I have to say I don’t mind not being everyone’s cup. If any leader in any business was well liked by all, then something would be far wrong. Improvement, innovation and aspiration requires change and not all people like change; yet change is necessary. The world around us is changing, many of the jobs we will be doing in a generation will look quite different from that which we do just now. Consequently, the qualifications and experiences which we provide in school, with the support of our partners like Argyll College, Ballet West, Open University or Glasgow University (Reach), need to change too. Many staff, parents and pupils recognise this and appreciate the changes we are making to ensure we prepare our youngsters for work; others cannot see beyond their own education and advice given to them from 20 or 30 years ago.

It is for this reason that I am pleased to note that we have yet again secured the continuing support of Skills Development Scotland (SDS). I met with Area Managers Margaret Bennett (Oban) and Pamela Little (Tiree) this week to ensure that careers advisors will be present in careers discussions between our pupils and our parents; thus ensuring parents are given the most up-to-date guidance from the experts. It is quite an undertaking by SDS to send extra careers advisors to our schools during course options and I am extremely grateful to them. Of course parents should be aware that families may also use the excellent World of Work website developed by SDS.

Top tips for parents:

1. If your child knows what career they wish to embark on. Look on-line for initial advice on qualifications and experiences required; then speak to their Guidance teacher who will give them advice and will then arrange an appointment with a careers advisor if necessary.

2. If your child does not know what they want to do when they leave school. Aim to get the highest possible qualifications they can (including English). Leaving with any 5 Highers/National 5s etc (always including English) will allow entry to an endless number of university/college courses or for securing the basic qualifications to get an interview for a job.

3. Allow pupils to choose their own subjects; subjects they enjoy. If they enjoy the subjects they are doing, then they will more likely pass them; and at a higher grade. Do not tell them they must choose one from Science, one from Socials, one like Admin, Business etc. This was the advice I received in the 80s. If pupils follow this and are forced to take subjects they do not enjoy, they may miss out on the grades they need.

4. A very few subjects like medicine and dentistry have very specific demands. Make sure you know what these are. Don’t guess/ don’t assume the 80s model.

5. Finally, employers and universities are increasingly looking for pupils to have acquired experiences that will allow them to do well in their new job or survive living away from home. Once a pupil has gained the necessary qualifications they need for a job interview / university entrance, balance S6 with a wider range of experiences (most of which have qualifications linked to them them). Interviewers seem more interested in asking questions about things like a Leadership or Customer services experiences than how many extra Highers or Advanced Highers a candidate has. This is advice from Business leaders not just Head Teachers.

 I should also pay tribute to SDS for supporting us in developing Foundation Apprenticeships for pupils in both Oban and Tiree. It is very early days as we tease out the structure, staffing and finance of these between the schools, SDS and Argyll College but Aisling Clark (PT Developing the Young Workforce) has already received support from the local business community to secure placements for our Oban kids. I briefly mentioned this during the Parent Council meeting in Tiree in an effort to get the ball rolling there too, so we will be looking at placements for all youngsters.

Whether we are offering academic National 1 Courses or full Baccalaureates; Foundation apprenticeships or Customer Service units for those who wish to balance the academic and the vocational experiences, our promise is to ensure we provide any qualification or experience one needs (not wants) for any pupil to get any job or any university place in Scotland.

One parent told the Good Schools Guide we are not as good as we think we are because we try to offer too much to our pupils. Some parents scoffed at us offering vocational subjects like Bakery instead of more Advanced Highers. My response to this is simple. If a pupil needs an Advanced Higher to get into a Scottish University, we will run it. If a pupil wishes a career where a Bakery qualification will help them get a job; we will run it.

Our Vision is for all pupils to succeed. Those pupils doing the many Advanced Highers / Baccalaureates we offer and those who wish to work on the land; in factories; in shops, offices, hotels, bars and hairdressers. We can and we will support every child’s dreams… along with our partners and friends in the community.

 Hold on a minute whilst I climb down off my soapbox…

So back in Tiree last Monday and it was some of these tips I was sharing. Tips already frequently given to OHS parents. I was very pleased to note a well-attended Parent Council meeting: a meeting that was full of parents interested in the developments underway and of those volunteering their services (and resources) to the school. I have been lucky to have the support of the OHS Parent Council and it seems to be that the THS parents are equally dedicated to the task of supporting our school.

I have had the privilege of working alongside many parents over the years who have embraced this endeavour and have sought to support the changes necessary to ensure that every child has access to the same opportunities as others. The support of parents in securing funding for our Hardship Fund, our Breakfast and Homework Clubs and for other initiatives linked to the Scottish Government’s (and our) desire to close the poverty related attainment gap are very noticeable. My thanks to all the parents who give up their time to help in our schools either with fund-raising or supporting good causes; in promoting initiatives linked to the health and well-being of our kids; or in helping us to support parents, help their children with their studies and experiences.

I was grateful for the delivery of paint for the THS out-buildings and for the offer of help to paint the walls. Other property issues I worked on this week included the installation of a new roof to much of the school. I am also in the process of building a new fitness room and have already purchased the equipment; new offices have been built for the new PT and secretarial roles; the heating is in the process of being sorted; and new computers/IT equipment has been ordered to bring the IT up to the same spec as Oban. My thanks to George Campbell, Billy Ingram, Maria McPhee and Kevin Brown.

Of course one of the biggest IT changes taking place across both Oban and Tiree is the establishment of Skype to ensure better communication between the partnered staff and to enable the ability to share learning experiences thus expanding the level of choice in both schools. I am thankful to the Council for investing heavily in the installation and purchase of equipment to make this happen.

Property meetings in Oban led me to check over the new carpark, bus turning and outside social spaces in the grounds of the new OHS. Nearly there. Inside we are now at the stage where we are making minor repairs caused by the wear and tear of over a thousand people making their way around and in and out of our school. We are also about to add some CCTV to the Atrium and more importantly our newly agreed Values (based on our Vision statement) are to be placed on the Atrium walls.

Following a consultation exercise with OHS pupils, parents, staff and partners the values of Ambition, Compassion, Respect and Resilience were identified as those our community most thought worthy of recognising and promoting.

Jemma Playfair (DHT) carried out exactly the same exercise with pupils in Tiree last week and is about to launch the staff and parent consultation this week. I am aware the THS community share these same values, amongst others, though I am interested to note whether they will feature as the top four as well. It matters not if they match or not. What is important is that each school promotes its own set of values.

I have mentioned a fair few partners above and my week continued with more meetings about ensuring continuing support from another two great organisations of a similar nature. The Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme has been provided both within and in addition to the traditional OHS curriculum for many years now. Since we took the initiative to take place the award at the centre of our enhancement activities and secured the support of many staff, dozens of pupils each year benefit from the experiences and lessons learned as they make their way through the Bronze, Silver and Gold tasks. My discussions this week were around utilizing the partnership with Tiree so that both sets of students can take part in the activities away from their immediate local communities but still have the support of the others environment and resources. There’s no point in dragging tents across a ferry when the same equipment is at either end for example. My thanks to Lucy Girling for driving forward all the initial developments in Oban; and to Aimee McIntosh for taking over now.

Freda Fallon’s leadership of developments with Outward Bound is another success story. We have now progressed from delivering leadership courses each year to S6 pupils to allowing our S3 pupils to experience what it is like to use the outdoors as a leadership opportunity… one that because of the nature of the setting encourages ambition to succeed in a unfamiliar setting, compassion for the feelings of team-mates, all of whom will be stressed to some degree by the experience; respect for the skills each team member brings to the endeavour and resilience throughout the challenges set.

Another example of how we plan to link our lessons, in and out of the classroom, with what we need to build on to better prepare our youngsters for life and work after school.

Partnerships is a theme I shall explore again next time as just this week Wenche R. Kavli, Head Teacher of Skedsmo videregående skole and Knut Kirknes from Mailand Videregående Skole, Norway, both contacted me to take forward international opportunities we are working on alongside the Scottish College of Educational Leadership.

I would love to keep typing away with more info and thoughts but the HMI will be here soon, so I better get myself and my team in order to show off what a wonderful school community we work in. The HMI will interview me, the senior leadership team, groups of teachers, support staff, then pupils, parents and local partners… it’s going to be a busy day.

I’ll tell you all about it next week. Meantime, for those interested in many of the daily goings on over the last couple of weeks, go onto Facebook. I instructed all the staff in both schools to increase the number of posts published to keep giving parents and the wider community an idea of life in our schools; as well as for key messages, travel updates and sharing our numerous success stories.

Please feel free to share any FB post.

If you are a parent reading this and have any questions about anything, contact your child”s Guidance teacher in the first instance.

Anyone else reading my personal blog who wants to get in touch about sharing good practice; wants info on any of the professional learning I am involved in; or are offering support for my Oban or Tiree kids, PM me please.

It’s good to share!!


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.

2 thoughts on “How do you like your tea? Strong.”

  1. Evening, would it be possible to have a discussion about how Girlguiding can work to support young people at OHS, as there are several opportunities available to YP outwith the normal Guide Meetings (10-14 yrs) and Ranger Meetings (14 – 18yrs) including Young Leader Qualifications, appreciate you will be busy with your ‘visitors’ but this would certainly be another excellent partnership, Alison MacKenzie, District Commissioner, Oban


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s