Last week started very well indeed as I appointed two new two colleagues: a new Social Subjects Teacher to Tiree and a new School Technician for Oban. Congratulations to Sheldon McGhee and Jan Evetts. Disappointingly, following our recruitment drive for a new DHT for Oban, we still failed to take forward any of the candidates to interview.
The successful candidates for the Socials and Tech positions successfully convinced a panel of three that they had the necessary knowledge, skills and experiences to take forward our schools. They knew the role, knew the school and knew what was going on across the country and how to tap into this wealth of knowledge to build on their own experiences to help shape our schools. In short they came prepared, performed well and were convincing through their exemplification of experiences linked to the next context and environment.
Many people apply for a variety of positions in our schools. More often than not we select the best candidates for the positions based on their applications (which get them an interview) and from their interviews (which help land the job). Sometimes we advertise and don’t interview because we feel the applications forms have not suitably demonstrated that an applicant would take forward the role in our schools; or we interview and the interviewees don’t convince the panel they could perform the roll to a high enough standard. Life is tough for those who don’t make the cut: but that is life. My responsibility is to ensure we have the best possible staff in post for the benefit for our young people.
My advice to all candidates for any post is to ensure they do their homework on a school and the local community. If one is considering moving school or embarking on a new career in a new area, one must consider two things. What is it that the (specific) school needs me to do (to an excellent standard); and, where am I going to live?
The number of applications I receive that merely show off a candidate’s previous experience in completely different environments, without any effort to interconnect their knowledge, skills and experiences with the role expected in either Oban or Tiree is sadly quite common. Lazy application writing is a key factor behind not being leeted for interview.
Now I have not had one of the following for a wee while but my rural Heidie pals repeat this often. Equally astounding is the number of candidates offered jobs across rural areas who then turn the jobs down because they then think the school is too far away; or they ask to delay their decision after a job has been offered because they need to ask their spouse. Arghhhh! Do your homework before you apply! Research the school, call the Head Teacher, take a trip if it is a long distance away. It’s a life changing decision. Be prepared. Demonstrate intellect and common sense.
I firmly believe that all those who do their research will realise just what a wonderful life they could have by moving to Oban or Tiree: great schools, supportive communities and beautiful settings.
I consistently and persistently note that the purpose of school is to prepare youngsters for life and work. Given the emphasis I stressed on interviews above, you will not find it surprising that I also offer interview training to all pupils. This training will take place on Monday, though I’ll fit any youngster in at any time if they chap my door. It is primarily aimed at those who are applying for leadership positions in the school but any pupil can attend. The application and selection process, including the interview panel system is entirely based on the same one we use for teachers. Even the questions are similar, though of course our expectations are a bit lower. I recommend all pupils apply for these roles. The experience of going through this process helps prepare youngsters for jobs out-with school; and of course if they are successful they get the benefits of that leadership experience, leading more enhanced CVs.
The same service is open to all staff.
Channel Four are doing a documentary on spectacular train journeys, Produced by Flint TV. Lindsey Hammond & Michael Prince came along to chat to me about filming the pupils who take the train to school. They are interested in the kids views of this experience. Once we have sent out the filming permission forms, expect to see this programme showing off our local environment in all its beauty. Another help in the PR campaign to get new teachers.
The biggest event of last week was Oban High’s official opening day. The day went very well indeed. It should have given it was weeks in the planning and we had a dress rehearsal the day before. Some believe that all this effort was unnecessary. It’s just another day said one. Tell that to a bride was my response.
In all seriousness, the answer to Why? is quite simple and has two rationales. Most importantly it gives both an impetus and opportunity to exemplar the standards we strive for when taking forward events and demonstrating our ambition and professionalism to both pupils and the wider community. Secondly, again, it provides us with a national showcase of what our school has and can achieve. The media coverage the day shown a bright beacon to the education community that we are a great school to come and work for. This was exemplified through the wealth of accompanying congratulatory comments from so many people who attended the day. Thank you to everyone who came along and made the day such a special one for all the pupils who put a huge effort in to the organisation, service, demonstrations and performances.
The first display to welcome our guests began on the arrival down the Avenue. Pupils manned the displays in the Avenue to show off Marine Skills, Horticulture, Sailing, Canoeing, Mountain Biking and Archery. Our world famous OHS Pipe Band piped everyone in to school to be met by our Head Boy, Angus Neil who took our guest to the registration table to receive their programme and OHS School Badge engraved whisky glass. A selection of both junior and senior pupils adorned in full blazered uniforms then escorted our guests for canapés and fizz, served on the Terrace by our professionally attired Hospitality pupils, many of whom returned to school, having just left after the exams, eager to show off their skills and support their well respected teacher and mentor, Morag MacKinnon.
Once I had thanked everyone for coming along, our senior pupils led tours across and around the school. Our guests saw lessons in Socials, Languages, Maths and Science and took particular interest in some of the more visual areas in our Support Department, Art and Design and Tech rooms. Lots of questions were posed when passing by the Construction Barn, the garage, where we teach both Automotive Engineering and Marine Engineering; the Bee Hut our construction pupils were still building (the bees arrived the next day); our Poly Tunnel; and Piping Pavilion. Guests also passed by the Strength and Conditioning; School of Rugby and School of Dance classes in full flow; as well as seeing Hairdressing and Beauty Therapy in action. Performances of a new play, performed and written by S2/3 pupils also enthralled our guests.
Many of these courses (which include a large number of new Foundation Apprenticeships) and experiences are only possible because of the excellent and very successful partnership we have with Argyll College. My thanks to Elaine Munro and Theresa Bain for their leadership; and of course to the tutors Martin and Amber Crowley, Cameron MacLeod and Jean MacPherson who make the pupil experiences so rewarding and enjoyable.
Then we moved onto the displays in our new stage facilities, with kit found in London theatres, aiding the teaching of our Drama, Stage Production and Stage Management courses, where our dancers, gymnasts and musicians, including those from our School of Traditional Music and School of Dance Performed to a large appreciative audience.
We closed with speeches from the Director of Education, Douglas Hendry and from our Guest of Honour Councillor Yvonne McNeilly, who also did the official unveiling of the plaque. Yvonne is a keen supporter of our school and proponent of the breadth of education we strive for.
I added the vote of thanks to all those who made the completion of the project possible (David Logan and Shirley Johnstone in particular); and the opening day itself such a success. I concluded with the story of how the new school came about from a conversation I had with Cleland Sneddon, six years previously. Cleland encouraged me to be ambitious for our school. It was Cleland (and Carol Evans, the Head of Service) who encouraged me to put forward the application to the Scottish Future’s trust for the money to build the new school. Without this encouragement I would never had bid for a new school and we would never have been able to develop the curriculum in the way we have without such outstanding facilities.
One would think that after a busy day, we could just all pat each other on the back and toddle off to the pub. Nope. After that it was on to an education budget meeting to discuss ways in which we can support schools within a period where all Councils need to evaluate their financial priorities and work on ways in which we continue to be ambitious and successful for our youngsters.
The end of the week saw me jump back on board the Clansman and head to Tiree, where I picked up on similar property issues. The school roof is nearly complete;discussions were held about extending the roof replacement programme to include all the out-buildings to make them water tight. On-going evaluations of which materials to use for the internal corridors were held as we aim to modernise the building; painting throughout the school continues; and I planned for the arrival of the engineers from SSUK to arrive this week to finish the installation of all the new Promethean Boards across the school. These new devices are excellent teaching tools – effectively they are just like 75 inch ipads on the walls of each classroom, giving connectivity directly to the internet, the servers, the computers and of course aiding the quality of the e-learning lessons bouncing back and forward between Oban High and Tiree High.
I even squeezed time in to wash more windows whilst I waited to attend a brilliant production of Primary pupils entertaining staff with a multi skilled rendition of Mama Mia. The choir, keyboards and percussion all did brilliantly. Then it concluded with staff getting to join in. For those that see the video of this, please accept my apologies. The kids only version is better without my dulcet tones.
The vast majority of Tiree High pupils were off on the trip to France where they were learning all about WW1 battles, visiting the Somme and Ypres and visiting WW2 sites – especially relevant given the D Day 75th anniversary events on going just now. I have to say it was the pictures of them all at Disneyland that made me most envious. Never mind, I’m signed up to go the French Trip next year as we intend to take 90 youngsters from OHS there in the February holiday. Not sure we’ll get the same weather!
This is of course is Trip Season for schools. The last few weeks are traditionally a time when most schools take their kids abroad or afar in an effort to give them educational experiences in a more socially and culturally rewarding environment than could be achieved at other more academically time sensitive times of the year. OHS pupils are currently sweltering in Rome as Aisling Clark desperately tries to tie down an audience with the Pope; and Tiree Primary pupils have just returned from a hugely successful trip to Belfast and Glasgow. Indeed, I just welcomed them all off the boat; all smiling away and saying how well they enjoyed themselves. They clearly had a great time.
I exchanged places on the pier with Eilidh Smith and her mum Isla, who were visiting Tiree along with Laurinburg pupil Madison. Last night I sat on a sunny beach (The Maze) after a busy week at work, watching surfers enjoying the waves and my dogs running through the dunes. Eilidh, Isla and Madison look like they are about to experience long walks along wind-swept beaches this weekend. But, Tiree in any weather is a great experience and one which our American guest Madison I’m sure will love.
My family are also hosting one of the 12 Laurinburg kids who have come to Oban as part of the 26th annual Oban-Laurinburg exchange. Nick is a lovely lad who has joined us at home, well looked after by my son Jude. So well looked after indeed, that tomorrow he will visit Easter Road for a tour of the stadium, dressing rooms and trophy room (where he will spend a minute or so looking at the wealth of silverware). We will also visit Edinburgh castle for a bit of culture. Each hosting family will take their guest somewhere significant or special to them this weekend.
However, most of the visit is planned around a lot of group activities. I welcomed everyone to the school on Wednesday, the they were all hosted by Donald Black at Soroba House (Thanks Donald), Thursday saw them all take part in a car treasure hunt where (Cammy Clark deservedly won a prize as the most innovative participant); and last night saw them at a BBQ at Iain and Mora Richmond’s house. Everyone pitching in and having a great time together is what the cultural experience is all about. More events to report next week.
I missed the last couple of events as I was busy working away in Tiree or leading the OHS P7 Primary Parents’ Evening (we have 19 partner primary schools from across the Oban, Lorn and the Isles area who all attend OHS). We changed the format of this event a little this year. I welcomed everyone along with what parents kindly reported as an inspirational speech before they were taken on a tour of the school by our pupils. Along the way all the groups (parents were placed in Clan groups) stopped at a selection of classes where they received two half hour lessons on a variety of subjects to let them see how much teaching and learning has changed since they were at school. It worked. I have received lots of good reports from the evening.
We have tried to do this throughout the year with all teachers offering the ability for parents to come in and see a lesson but the offer was rarely taken up. I suppose having a captured market helps. Not many parents would willingly sit in on a Maths lesson for example. But they did, and they came away with a positive experience. Great!
I should take the opportunity to thank not only our pupil guides and teachers who led the parent lessons but also our fabulous Parent Council members who keep giving up their time to come along and support our school. This week they were serving refreshments and selling school ties. Thanks especially to the Chair, Maggie Thorpe, who once again stoop up in front of hundreds of parents extolling the virtues of our school and encouraging P7 parents to join the Parent Council through describing the success of the PC in helping the school in so many ways again this year.
These are the enjoyable parts of the week I have described. Of course there are other tasks that have to be undertaken on a weekly basis. Meetings with managers, or staff requiring support and guidance on a particular issue are daily in Oban and whilst I on Tiree; answering (literally hundreds) of emails; and planning for the weeks and months ahead through reading reports and discussing progress planning with staff. This week saw me discussing the new Working Time Agreements and next year’s school calendars for Oban and Tiree with staff. We need to make sure the tasks set, events held and work expected can actually be done within the teachers’ contracted time and we need to know in advance when are we going to have reports out, in-service days and training held; parents’ evening etc.
I also met with Aileen Jackson to discuss the work she and her team have been leading on ensuring that we raise attainment; and in particular with closing he poverty related attainment gap through utilising the monies allocated to us via the Pupil Equity Funding. Almost all the initiatives we have established have shown to have helped: the establishment of Home Link Workers (Louise and Debbie) to work alongside our Youth Development Worker (Joan) have ensured we are getting more youngsters into school and supported to take forward their learning when in school.
The continuation of the Breakfast Club in Oban and the establishment of one in Tiree, is helping ensure that those who are missing out on a breakfast are able to get the fuel for the day necessary to concentrate on their studies. This is also supplemented by the holiday support and free breakfast we lay on during the October and Easter holidays.
The Fresh Start programme has seen a dramatic effect on the improved reading ages of many; the Mentoring Programme; Nurture classes; establishment of evening Out-reach centres in Park Primary and Argyll College; and parent support classes in the evening have supported many more to improve on theirconfidence, relationships and learning.
Now, I could go on and describe lots of other wee jobs… but I’ll end here. The purpose of my blog, as hopefully you know by now, is to give you an idea of what a Heidie in a Highland school gets up to. For a more comprehensive look at what goes on in school, then please follow our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Website posts for both. We have so many learning experiences; school events; community links and partnerships; and pupil and staff successes in Oban and Tiree that I could only scratch the surface in a blog… which I suppose I’ve done.
Enjoy, I’m off to the Leith San Siro.