Whoosh! That is the sound of the last 10 days whizzing by in Oban High School. I’m not even sure where to start in describing the fabulous efforts of our school community. Perhaps with a round of applause to all our talented musicians from our School of Traditional Music who performed so well in front of a great audience in Skipinnish Ceilidh House as part of our St’ Andrew’s Day celebrations. Of course we also have our school orchestra full of talented pupils playing the Violin, Clarinet, Flute, Trumpet, Cello, Saxaphone, Trombone, Glockenspiel and Drums and they have been busy practising for our next musical performances at the Pensioners Treat and the Christmas Cracker Concert (both on Tuesday 19th December) as well as our end of term Christmas Services (Friday 22nd December). I must practice my Trumpet more often, the pupils are far better than I am.

The mere mention of Christmas reminds me of the excitement and anticipation running through the school for the forthcoming highlight of the social calendar – Jingles. Our Senior Pupil Leadership Team, assisted by our newly created Junior Pupil Leadership Team, have been busy preparing for both the Senior Jingles (Friday 15th) and Junior Jingles (Wednesday 20th). Both are huge events, especially the Senior Jingles, which will be attended by about 400 of our senior pupils all dressed in beautiful dresses and kilts or smart suits all dancing away under the the silk canopy and bright lights of the Corran Halls to the music of The True Love and Ceol An Aire. 

The pupils have also been busy putting up all our Christmas trees and decorations around the school. Thanks to the Forrestry Commission and Stephen Sloss for arranging our big tree!

It’s not only our pupils who get to dance the night away at these events, our staff too love a Strip the Willow and a Dashing White Sergeant and they were getting some early practice last Friday at the Staff Christmas night out at the Royal Hotel. A great night organised by the staff Social Committee. However, having been watching many of the Social Dance lessons laid on by the PE staff over the last couple of weeks, I have to say the pupils maybe the ones teaching the staff at Jingles.

There was more dancing to be had last Saturday at the Valencia fundraiser at Soroba House. Thanks to Donald Black for his generosity in hosting the event and well done to Colin Carswell and his boys for all the hard work organising the gig. It was well attended by pupils and family/friends from across S4 to S6 and this will mean a good contribution will be made to the Ryan MacPhail Memorial Fund – a brilliant local charity that supports so many worthy causes across the local area.

As well as parents putting on their dancing shoes and attending social events like the Valencia dance, we have seen a large number of parents through our doors this week as they attended the S1 Parents’ Evening (despite the weather). Additionally, we had parents attending our Parental Engagement meeting, where we were sharing curricular models from four schools from across Scotland. We are keen to explore how other schools have moved to a single cohort of pupils in S4, S5 and S6 to ensure they are able to offer more subjects and all within the same level. We already offer probably the broadest curriculum in the country but I feel there is always new ways of working from other successful schools which we can then tailor to meet our individual environment.

We are continuing to look for ways for parents to engage in the life of the school and this week we issued another round of invites to parents to come into the school and sit in on a lesson to get a feel for what we do every day. The parents will also get the chance to ask the teacher about the lessons and learn a wee bit more about how they as parents could perhaps help their children at home.

In addition to inviting parents in to learn about their child’s progress and to see a little of the classroom experience, we are also keen to provide help with a whole range of social issues. On Saturday morning, one of our DHTs, Kevin Champion, ran a session on the subject of resilience and just under 50 parents watched an hour long documentary on this subject and on how adverse childhood experiences can lead to both mental and physical ill health; and more importantly, how we can help to support those facing such issues. We are running an internet / social media safety on line session in January. We are also working on how to get more parental engagement sessions delivered in the wider communities and our Parental Engagement group of staff and parents will tease this out over the coming months.

I was disappointed to have missed our Under 16s Rugby team competing in the final of the Scottish Bowl at Murrayfield against Auckinleck on Wednesday. They played exceptionally well but lost out on a victory in the dying minutes a game which finished 24-21. To reach any Scottish cup final is a fantastic achievement and such experience will serve them well in the next cup they are progressing through after the new year.

I would not normally have missed such an important fixture, having witnessed success and heartache twice before at Murrayfield in recent years with our successful girls rugby team. However, I did have a long standing commitment in my diary to address a large audience of Head Teachers and Depute Head Teachers in Larbert High School on the subject of our senior phase curriculum. As I have previously noted in my blogs, we have an extensive curriculum and one which attracts national interest (and recently international interest). Speaking at such events allows me to showcase the fantastic work done by our pupils, staff and community partners. Just as importantly it allows me to listen to other presenters and learn much about other great initiatives happening all over the country. Scottish Education often takes a lot of flak in the national press however, from experience at attending a range of educational conference and from visiting other schools, I can tell you that such criticism is unfounded. Every school, ours included, may have areas of the complex web that is education to work on and improve but there are so many examples of excellent practice across the country that we can all learn from, if only we listen to what’s going on and seek out good practice.

On the issue of celebrating success and recognising the good things that go on in schools may I suggest to readers that they Look at our Facebook page and have a wee look at our recent posts; including my most recent Learning Live 10 video… and the video entitled “Wow! What a busy year.” made by Dave Berry (Technician and student teacher). You will also notice the list of Head Teacher Commendations I issued to a large number of our pupils this week in recognition of the superb efforts they are putting into the life of the school just now.

This blog is about what it’s like to be a Heidie so just for good measure, all in the last week in addition to the above: I’ve been teaching my classes; been called out in the middle of the night to deal with fire and intruder alarms; set up interviews; advertised for new staff; written reports; answered emails; writtin UCAS references; visited our new school; met with staff about finance, staffing, tracking and monitoring, school events etc; and this week in particular I have spent a long time discussing transport issues with Scotrail, West Coast Motors and the Police. Although the school is not responsible for transport at all, we are very happy to use our contacts / Facebook page to get travel news out to the community. It’s been a busy week.

I will finish by noting that all our pupils, our staff and our parents are all very, very  busy. We are just busy in different ways. Christmas is a busy time of year because of work and because of all the family commitments we have to attend to during the whole festive period. My advice to everyone who mentions how busy they are is for them to remember that sometimes we need to just accept that some times of the year are busier than others and that we have to prioritise what is important; and the most important thing to prioritise is one’s health and one’s family.

I hope all you busy readers keep busy but not too busy you forget to look after yourself and your family and friends.

One last picture, just for good measure: a recipe for Gingerbread Men from our Food Technology Department, who issued this as a Christmas Clan Challenge. Enjoy!!!!




Developing the young workforce: Our journey

One of the developments that has taken place over the years that I am most pleased with is our ability to work with lots of different partners to ensure we provide one of the most extensive curriculums in the country. As well as providing specialist educational programmes through our School of Traditional Music, School of Dance and School of Rugby, we also work with Argyll College, UHI, University of Strathclyde and the Open University to make sure we deliver 40 different courses for our S5/6 and 24 courses for our S4 pupils. However, it’s not just courses we offer but a wealth of experiences which help ensure our youngsters are ready for life after school. We offer this breadth to fulfil our vision of trying to fulfil the aspirations of every youngster who comes to our school.

In 2008 Oban High School’s senior phase (S5/6) programme focused almost exclusively on the provision of Highers with a few bi-level options where necessary, despite the high stay on rate. Vocational education was a strategy centered on those pupils who were likely to leave at the end of S4 or were forced to stay on as Christmas leavers. The agreement with our local further education partner, Argyll College, provided that they would run Skills for Work courses for S3 and S4, most of whom chosen or were placed on these courses because of their desire to leave school at the end of S4. Every S4 pupil experienced one week of Work Experience. This was not an uncommon story across the country. What was uncommon was that up to 40% of our youngsters went straight into employment after school.

With a community that has a wealth of opportunity arising from almost full employment, it was clear a change in direction was necessary; indeed to have more than one direction. Through consultation a new vision was established by the end of the session; a vision that stressed the importance of recognising vocational success as highly as academic success, a vision consistently and persistently repeated to all across the community. The first task added to the new School Improvement Plan was to move all the Skills for Work courses out of the junior school and into the S5/6 curriculum, alongside an insistence that each academic subject must offer two levels of each senior phase course. Immediately this resulted in a far greater degree of appropriate planned choice for those more interested in a vocational pathway as opposed to life at university.

The establishment of a full time Guidance system allowing for more one to one time with pupils ensured Guidance teachers could now work more closely with the Careers Advisors in SDS, local employers and local employment agencies to ensure that pupils received tailored support unique to them and not just based on a norm referenced matrix.

Working alongside some initially interested members of the business community, we then established our Pathways Programme. “Pathways” is open to all S6 pupils who wish to choose it, appropriate S5 pupils (those that are leaving at the end of S5) and targeted S4 pupils (those that are leaving at the end of S4 and are at risk of disengaging from mainstream education). To begin with we had 12 possible vocational placements benefitting up to 30 pupils. We now have around 90 possible placements and around 80 pupils taking up the opportunities on offer. Each community partner has been health and safety checked and receive regular contact from the school. The success of this initiative is only possible because of the generosity of the community partners and because we employee a full time Post 16 Teacher to ensure that all pupils/placements/associated academic work is all on track.
The basic premise is that pupils select an extended work experience placement which is linked to the career aspirations and pathway they have planned when they leave school and they attend this placement for at least a double period each week throughout the academic year. Examples of key employer partners include; Primary Schools, hospital, engineering firms, vets, lawyers, local newspaper, hotels, restaurants, hairdressers and beauty salons. This gives pupils sufficient contact time to build an in depth understanding of this workplace, clarify that this is the profession for them, to develop a wide range of industry specific skills and to attain a reference from a real employer based on real life work experience. For the remaining timetabled periods, pupils attend a class where they choose a minimum two SQA Wider Achievement Awards that they will complete along with a Customer Service Award. In many cases these link directly to the work a pupil is completing on their work placement.

Qualifications offered include: Safe Driver Award, Personal Development, Leadership, Well Being Award, Caritas, Scottish Studies, Scots Language, GCSE Polish, Religion, Belief and Values and Volunteering and Caritas. We are also delivering awards alongside Kelvin College which link into the community work our pupils do.

Recognising and rewarding the commitment of the business community is crucial. We have held a number of business engagement events. “Business Breakfasts” are particularly well received as they allow not only existing partners to come in to see us over an informal bacon sandwich but it also allows potential employers the opportunity to come and hear from others how they can benefit from being involved with the school. Even more important is to take the opportunity to recognize and reward our local business partners. We have held such award ceremonies at both Business Breakfast and end of session pupil award ceremonies alike. Sometimes it’s just nice to be nice and as we speak our pupils are running round the community delivering cards and wee presents to say thank you and Merry Christmas.

Some of the other developments to broaden the curriculum and so ensure relevant learner journeys included building our own Hairdressing Salon; a Cosmetology Suite and an Engineering (mechanics) room; providing financial support to allow up to 10 pupils to go through the Open University’s Young Applicants in School Scheme (YASS); and Baccalauretes are provided for as many pupils who choose to use this academic pathway to help secure their place at a particular university.

Developing learner journeys from the Bread General Education (S1-3) into the senior phase with a specific focus on career progression has been the most recent development for us. We are currently using a skills based software programme called Didbook; we use this alongside all 19 of our Partner Primary Schools. Didbook allows pupils to record and share their achievements; set targets and aspirations; and reflect on their progress in developing a whole range of skills: literacy, numeracy, communication; presentation etc…
Every teacher in every class is now expected to share the skills that can be developed within that lesson to help the pupils see the relevance of what they are learning with not only their discreet subjects but with life and work after school. Once a week, all pupils are given the opportunity to reflect on all the skills they have been developing across the subjects and to record these in Didbook; and in doing so build on their profiles already established in the Primary schools to the stage where they could be crafted into CVs. However more importantly the identification of skills and successes help the pupils to have a far clearer idea of what subjects and courses they should choose for their individual career pathway.

We have a lot of businesses who want us to provide health and hygiene qualifications for example, which we do; we have lots who tell us that what is important is commitment, time keeping, the ability to listen and follow instructions, so we emphasise these skills to pupils. However I think we need to meet and listen to more employers and start to provide many more industry specific courses that could directly enhance a pupil’s chance of getting a job in a particular industry by already meeting a basic requirement of their year one training for example.

However, I’m always keen to hear of any new ideas… pass them along please.

How to succeed in life? Learn from others and let others learn from you.

I would love to visit St’ Petersburg. I have this image in my head that is crystal clear, colourful and enticing. In my mind with absolute clarity I can see the multi coloured spiral towers of the Church of the Saviour; the grand ballroom of the Winter Palace with its abundance of art, opulent decor and the largest sparkling chandeliers one can imagine illuminating a hundred couples dancing a Waltz; whilst outside people meander the snow covered streets in large fur jackets and Cossack hats.

I have two problems, well one problem and one lack of certainty to be precise. I’m not exactly sure how to get there and I’m not too sure that when I do get there that my vision of St’ Petersburg would be mirrored in reality. To solve my first problem is pretty easy: research. I know I would prefer to travel by land and sea rather than fly to ensure I learn as much as I can on the journey, so I shall need to work on a route map; choose which countries to visit, more specifically, which roads to travel and which towns and cities to stop at. I will need to read many reports and guides to get an understanding of the dangers to be faced on my travels whilst learning of the most interesting and worthwhile places and events to experience. Listening to the advice of others more knowledgeable than I, both before departing and whilst on route, will ensure I arrive safely and fully appreciate all my destination has to offer.

I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend the School Leaders Scotland (SLS) Conference in Cameron House for two days. Whilst the hotel is lovely, it doesn’t quite match my aspirations to visit the Winter Palace, though the scenery across Loch Lomond I am certain is more beautiful than anything Lake Ladoga has to offer. Now, before all my readers get carried away about the cost, I must point out that I believe the hotel costs are less than a stay in a Premier Inn in Glasgow… which is unable to cater for a conference anyway. This cost is achieved through the discount achieved by SLS booking practically the whole hotel. The second advantage to the senior leaders of education who attend is that such a lovely setting no doubt attracts the very best guests to address and discuss the most pertinent of issues with Head Teachers face to face: John Swinney (Depute First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills); Graeme Logan (Chief Inspector, HMIe); Janet Brown (CEO, SQA); Ken Muir (CEO, GTCS); Gillian Hamilton (CEO, SCEL)… amongst many others.

John Swinney told us he was on a journey and like my journey to St’ Petersburg he has a clarity of vision and can picture the end of the road. However, similarly he is not quite sure how to get there, what exactly he will learn on the road and what dangers he is yet to face. However, what I find pleasing about this particular Cabinet Secretary is that from the presentations he has given thus far and from the questions I and others have set him, he has never wavered from his vision, yet is honest enough to say that the route may have to alter as he continues his research and receives wisdom from others along the not so clear path. Of course like all leaders he will face constant criticism as he is compelled to make decisions about one direction over another, thus always disappointing someone. The most obvious example of this dilemma is illustrated within the Governance Consultation. The Cabinet Secretary sees more autonomy for Head Teachers and their communities as his destination. However the route there is fraught with uncertainty because our Local Authorities and Directors of Education have been responsible for ensuring that schools follow government policy, tempered and adapted by local needs for generations and they are unlikely to universally agree on how far the balance of power should shift; just as Head Teachers cannot agree on how much autonomy and support they need to deliver the high standards of education demanded, quite rightly, by our Cabinet Secretary.

Likewise, the success of the balancing act required to ensure that schools can take forward government education policy under the leadership duality of having a Local Authority as an employer, whilst receiving direction from Regional Improvement Collaboratives remains to be seen. Head Teachers made it very clear at this conference that they do not wish to be legally answerable to two different bodies who may be pulling in different directions and who will with certainty and necessity generate two layers of bureaucracy around exactly the same issues. John Swinney addressed these concerns and noted that together, the Government, the Head Teachers, the Collaboratives and the Local Authorities will work it out. I remain confident.

John Swinney’s keynote message was a repeat of what I have heard more than a few times over the last few conferences I have been invited to attend. So too was Graeme Logan’s presentation as he reiterated the need for collaboration. He also continued to stress the importance of closing the poverty related attainment gap and the need to reduce initiatives coming out of schools and local authorities so we can concentrate on fewer aims and be more successful in a more targeted way. He asked us to make sure we had more Pathways for youngsters in the BGE and not to keep providing the same junior curriculum as we have for decades; he noted the need to pay more attention to the problems, needs and strategies arising from adverse childhood experiences; and the importance of leadership in ensuring that everyone knows how to take developments forward as well as knowing what to take forward.

There was much stronger guidance given to the effect that we need to stop seeing S4 and S5/6 as separate entities and that pupils should have clear fluid pathways through the BGE and into a individualised but holistically designed senior phase programme. Similarly, the strength of feeling that all teachers needed to take on a fuller responsibility for health and well being (and not just nurture), rather than leaving it to Guidance and Support colleagues was evident.
He concluded with what all considered to be great advice for both schools and Local Authorities alike: Keep it simple; make it bureaucracy light; make it relevant; collaborate; be innovate; close the poverty related attainment gap; and make a difference!
I could go on for hours describing each of the detailed presentations and the debates that followed. Instead I shall continue to merely provide a few of the most memorable observations made and discussions had that I feel noteworthy for a brief blog.
Stephen Miller, President of School Leaders Scotland, highlighted the problem of negativity across the media and how we need to do more to showcase the many successes we have in every school. We may be down in the PISA league tables but what about the high level of positive destinations we are ensuring across the country? I would urge us all to think how far have we come over the last 10 years. Yes, we have a long way to go with some issues but in many respects we are so much better at providing a more relevant set of educational experiences for our youngsters.

Elizabeth Morrison, Education Scotland’s Strategic Director, led a Workshop on the Attainment Challenge at which I contributed to. One issue raised was that we should only be using Poverty Equity Funding (PEF) on those pupils receiving free school meals and that the HMIe are not impressed with schools who just provide universal support for a whole year group for example, as opposed to targeted groups of disadvantaged children. My point was that if we only used PEF for those in poverty, it would soon become clear to this group that they were being singled out for special treatment and would disengage with whatever support was put in place for fear of being stigmatised. It is up to Head Teachers to spend this PEF funding, and if they choose to provide additional support and strategies to others out-with the target group to ensure those most in need take up the support, then that should be permitted. I was pleased Liz agreed, provided we could still evidence an impact on those most in need.

Instead of giving a description of the very informative workshop on the National Qualification for Headship provided by Lesley Whelan, Director of Programmes for SCEL, I would note how thrilled I was to spend a couple of hours with Lesley and her colleague Anne Munro discussing the excellent leadership programmes provided by SCEL for all levels of education. This is particularly important to Oban High School as we have a clear vision for developing leadership at all levels and have ensured that we have teachers on the Teacher Leadership Programme; Deputes on the Into Headship Programme; and I myself am a participant of the Excellence in Headship programme. Lesley and I share the view that all staff can be very effective leaders of learning provided they are given support and guidance and the opportunity to lead and I am looking forward to working with SCEL over the coming months to achieve this aim for my staff. Of course the biggest challenge is overcoming the lack of confidence to lead developments in many and the lack of desire in a few.

Neil Croll, the Head of Widening Participation at Glasgow University led a workshop outlining how the university alters it’s entrance requirements for those who participate in their REACH programme but more importantly for those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds – mainly those from areas which fall within SIMD 4 or below. (SIMD stands for Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation for those who wish to Google it). Whilst very supportive of this programme because I am a firm believer that we need to address the issue that youngsters coming from poorer backgrounds often do not get the same life chances as the majority of our children do and they need support, I am opposed to using SIMD as the only guide and determining factor in providing such support. SIMD indicators in rural areas simply do not work. For example, in Oban those in most financial need (as indicated through claiming Free School Meals) come from SIMD 6, not SIMD 2 as accepted as a norm across Scotland. I was encouraged by Neil’s acceptance of this rural issue and his confirmation that those at Glasgow University also bear in mind other individual evidence of need when addressing reduced qualifications.

All teachers have huge concern about the constant changes within the National Qualifications. Some subjects are more problematic than others, mainly Science, where the Scientists setting the courses and assessments can’t agree with each other, leading to changes appearing in the Subject Specification papers every single year. The constant debate on whether they can or cannot teach bi-level (two stages in the same class) really has to be resolved. However, the principal issue on everyone’s thoughts centre around the removal of compulsory units at National 5 and the impact that will have on the Nat 5 exams. Basically, to assess the requirements of the course without having evidence from unit assessments will now mean adding further questions to the Nat 5 exam, increasing the number of questions and extending the timing of the exam beyond what is expected at the Higher level. Does this then mean the Higher has to become more lengthy and demanding to the extent that the Higher paper will be more lengthy than a University exam paper? This issue is yet to be resolved.

So too the issues over whether or not the Nat 4 should have an exam and around why schools are over-presenting at Nat 5, leading to thousands pupils failing the Nat 5 exams. These issues are inter-twined and equally unresolved. From the outset we need to stop equating Nat 4 with the old General and Nat 5 with the old Credit exams under Standard Grade. Nat 5s were designed to be more demanding than the Credit as we all complained that the jump between a Credit and a Higher was far too great a leap. Nat 4 on the other hand was not designed to replace General.

What has happened in reality is that Nat 4 has replaced the old Foundation level that almost all pupils passed to recognise their efforts and success in completing a course at a basic competency level. Once this has been achieved then schools have no option to do anything other than present pupils at Nat 5, knowing that the Nat 5 courses are far more demanding than most pupils who have just sat Nat 4 will find achievable. It is for this reason that most schools are letting many pupils do the Nat 5 over two years, aiming to do the units in year 1 and the exam in year 2; though still letting them sit the Nat 5 exam they expect them to fail in year 1 for experience.

The discussion held In Ronnie Summers (SQA’s Head of Qualifications Development) workshop was that the SQA / Scottish Government felt that schools were over presenting, whilst the profession think we have no option. Ronnie was keen to hear of alternatives, for example, should we have Nat 4+ exams? Just as Ronnie was prepared to listen to my ideas for improvement so too was Janet Brown whom I had a long conversation with around the difficulties of the tight timescales for change set by the Government and about how best to engage everyone. I was very impressed by Janet’s desire to engage with me in discussing how best we support children. Far too often I speak to members of educational organisations and all they wish to discuss are percentages and improvement targets – the numbers. Janet on the other hand talked about individuals’ pathways and how we could best support them. She was aware of the breadth of opportunity that we offer in OHS and keen that we push forward with using more opportunities contained within the full suite of SQA opportunities on offer.

Ken Muir also shares similar views to myself about the need to look after individuals. In his case as the CEO of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, he is interested in how we support individual teachers to ensure that individual pupils get the best out of our professionals. His workshop on the changes to the “Fitness to Teach” policy was essential for all school leaders. The changes due to come into force in 2018 following the current consultation will likely ensure that all teachers are supported by schools and the GTCS to fulfil the GTCS Suite of Standards at whatever level they are at and their are clear expectations and guidelines on how to proceed if teachers are not at the required level. Jennifer MacDonald, the SQA’s Director of Regulations and Legal, gave all those present five scenarios, case studies of concern for us to consider and judge. This was a good reminder of the issues that can confront our staff and how we should be addressing them.

Now, I could continue to go on at length as between Nine in the morning to Midnight each day I discussed a variety of issues with dozens of educationalists and I listened to many more engaging speakers I have not teased out here, for example the extremely talented and enthralling Judith Gillespie, former Deputy Chief Constable; and clearly I can’t expand further on an already too long reflection of the conference.

However I am pleased to note at the tail end of this blog that I have learned a great deal about where we are nationally with government policy and where the key organisations wish us to proceed to over the next 12 months. I also learned much from my peers about how they are taking forward issues that I feel we need support in: tracking and monitoring in the junior school (BGE); how to merge S4, S5 and S6; how to use the SEEMIS system more effectively (All councils keep their records on this electronic programme to share with Government); examples of best practice in health and well being, especially nurture programmes; how to transform Core PE into certification for all; and how to further develop our OHS leadership for all initiatives to include more specific training for PTs and more sharing of good practice with international partners. I have to thank Gillian Hamilton, CEO of the Scottish College for Educational Leadership, in particular for her support.

Of course such conferences are about sharing and I was pleased to have been of assistance to my peers who sought me out to learn of our nationally recognised academic and vocational post 16 programme; our pastoral care and support initiatives; the leadership and nurture work we achieve in partnership with Outward Bound; our specialist schools of Traditional Music, Dance and Rugby; how we use Didbook to take forward the Skills agenda; how we are developing Growth Mindset and mentoring programmes; our parental engagement strategy, particularly the use of social media; and our own leadership development successes.

It’s good to share! ( and dance)

(I have included pictures of a number of people mentioned for two reasons. Firstly, I like having an image of someone in my head when I’m reading about them and I’m aware I mentioned lots of people that not everyone will be able to picture. Secondly, it’s less boring to read a blog with pictures.)

@Teamscel @sls @obanhighschool @johnswinney @GLoganEd @GTCSKen @CEOScel @FredaFallon

One day laughter, the next day tears.

My blog is designed to give a taster of what it’s like to be a Head Teacher. Most of what I write is very positive because I enjoy my job. There are aspects of the role that fill me with great pride, make me laugh and smile and generally provide a feeling of contentment that all is well. 
However, there are times when the job is stressful and there are times when instead of laughter there are tears. Today was a day for tears as I learned that Janice Alexander, who works in our office, passed away this morning after battling a terminal illness for the last 4 years. Janice has worked in our school for the last 14 years. She is a local girl, well known not just to those in the school but across the community. Along with her husband Iain, they were stalwarts in developing Oban Saints Youth football club into a very successful organisation – a club that the school has a very close partnership with. Janice kept Iain, the club and a large part of my school office running smoothly and efficiently. She made sure that both the Saints and the school got best value when it came to anything to do with our books and spending; she made sure that whenever there was an issue, that it was fixed; if there was ever a query, it was answered. Janice managed this by being good with the books but also being good with people.
Every morning on arriving at school I would make my way into the school office to be met by Janice who was in bright and early, already drinking her tea and scoffing the endless supply of cakes and biscuits along with the rest of “the girls”. This eating of cake and drinking of tea continued on a hourly basis throughout the day I often thought. And, each day she would smile (mostly), bid me good morning and then, depending on the Rangers or Hibs score would await my scorn or excuses. A bit of friendly football banter is always a good way to start the day… if we won. 
Thereafter we would discuss how the various Saints teams had got on, but particularly the team I used to coach and the team my son still plays for, the 2002s. She would regularly ask how the boys played and always took an interest in Jude in particular. After all the positives, she would then proceed to lambast every other coach who forgot to hand in their minibus keys or left the gate open before declaring what we should do to the next time… perhaps that bit of my recollection I should omit.
Throughout each day I would visit the office to see Janice about various orders and in most visits the conversation would quickly turn from the boring request about the size of a blazer or make of a device to a discussion on what was in the Oban Times, who had been saying what in the community or what she thought of a particular pupil or teacher, some good, some less so. You see, what made Janice such an appealing, lovely lady was her desire to be sociable, to chat, to have a laugh – often at my expense. If there was anyone you would enjoy working with beside, it would be Janice. And commendably she continued this same good humour (with a few ups and downs) throughout the last few years despite her illness. 
Of course it was not only me who appreciated her good nature. The girls in the office who knew her far, far better than I loved her. They worked with her every minute of the day and they socialised with her on numerous nights out and weekends away. The special bond that all these girls have with each other was pleasing to see each day and heartbreaking to witness today. Many staff from across the school also appreciated Janice for both her personal qualities and professional efficiency and many staff spent more than a few hours getting to know her well as they hung about the office for whatever reason, mainly to steal the girls cakes I think.
I was at a meeting in Kilmory when I got the call with the devastating news that Janice had passed away; still devastating even although I have been appraised of her wellbeing each week for some time now. I instructed the office girls to leave the school to allow them to be with each other, somewhere else but somewhere together so they could share their grief with the breaking of their bond. I then arranged for the school to close slightly earlier and drove swiftly back so I could hold a whole staff meeting. I felt it important to share the news with everyone myself. It is a role that all Head Teachers would undertake I imagine. I was fortunate that I had at my side Kristeen Horne, not just Janice’s manager but her friend. Together we stood at the front of the assembly hall to break the news, though many had heard already.
The whisperings in the audience and the spreading of the news ensured that before I even began to speak, the tears were flowing. I shared the sad news and I shared a few brief recollections and observations about Janice. I went on to note our thoughts were with Iain, Janice’s husband and her sons Stuart and Robert. And, I concluded with a dismissal of those gathered and a parting comment that I hoped they would recall warm and happy thoughts about our friend as they left. 
I had opened my remarks saying that this would be a short meeting. I did so because then was not the time for long eulogies, that time will come. It was a time to break the news and to allow the immediacy of emotion to take its toll. Some were shocked and some were stunned by the news. Some of us, already knowing the extent of Janice’s illness were still reeling regardless. 
Everyone was sad.
This is not a eulogy, it’s a blog. My witterings about issues and events all linked to the theme of what it’s like to be a Head Teacher. So with that in mind, let me tell you with sincere honesty that being a Head Teacher can be a wonderful job, full of joy and satisfaction. Today, having to look into the eyes of my colleagues, eyes already red with tears, and confirm that we have lost a wonderful friend and colleague, made this one of the saddest days I have endured. 
Given the timing and of Janice’s interest in my Bugle playing, I’ll finish with this observation:
Last Post has sounded this evening and we must endure our loss. Reveille will usher in a new day tomorrow and the opportunity to celebrate and remember our friend.

The Good, the Sad and the Ugly – Repeat

The Good

The mood in the school has picked up considerably since my blog last Tuesday. The following day, Wednesday, I spent most of the morning and into the afternoon coaching the under 16s football team then watched them turn on the style to despatch Lenzie Academy out of the Scottish Cup with a two goals to one victory. This is the team that got to the semi final a couple of years ago and we are hoping to get to the final this year. Lenzie gave us a good game though and were threatening throughout the game. I went to see them in the changing room after the game to say how well they played and congratulated their keeper in particular. He was outstanding, saving three clear fantastic on target shots.

Rather than be drawn into a minute by minute account of the game I better turn my attention to the highlight of the day on Thursday: the first of our “Live N Learn” courses. Live N Learn? A couple of Head Teacher colleagues of mine, Tom Rae at Craigmount and Peter Reid at Broxburn have been promoting the benefits of a company called Live N Learn to me for the last couple of years. Such was the passion they showed for the work of this firm that I went down to their head office in Lennoxtown a few months ago to see what all the fuss was about. After a couple of hours being given the full tour and explanation to the educational opportunities on offer, I signed us up to a six month programme of support around the concept of growth mindsets, linked to in particular to the national qualifications and the stress of exams.

Often, schools buy in such educational packages from a variety of firms across the country. They often get them in for a day sometime early in the session and target younger audiences. This is fairly sensible as it allows the pupils to benefit at an earlier stage and hopefully they will retain the knowledge learned into their senior years. However, I am not convinced that as many pupils benefit as we would like them to from these one day events and thought we should try to build on their knowledge and consolidate prior learning just as we seek to do in any of our daily lessons. So, I asked for a programme that would see us deliver Growth Mindset training to all S4 – S6 pupils in November, to be consolidated in our own lessons during a ten week block of lessons provided by the company; to then be built on through another two day training provision in February, again followed up by a further 10 lessons delivered in school with Live N Learn tailored materials. This will ensure that between now and the exams, every week our pupils will be exposed to a continual reinforcement of the key Growth Mindset messages, through the Prelims and right up until the exam period.

During the training on Thursdays and Friday, Jen (the excellent trainer provided) took our youngsters through a series of presentations and workshops designed to help our youngsters evaluate whether they had a “fixed mindset” or a “growth mindset”. The first excercise was designed to help our youngsters self evaluate how they cope with criticism; challenges; success; and difficulties. Do they take things personally or do they accept criticism and move on?; Do they avoid or confront challenge?; Do they feel threatened by others success or try to learn from others?; Do they say “I can’t do it.” Or, do they say “I can’t do this yet!”

The feedback provided showed our pupils be quite honest in their assessment of themselves and we had far too high a number admitting to having fixed mindsets. However this honesty is quite satisfying in a way because it allows us to have clear targets and a clear direction. One can only make changes if one accepts the need to change I feel and I’m pleased our pupils acknowledged this so we can work on developing Growth Mindsets over the coming months.

Jen also led a session with staff on the Thursday after school and with parents on Thursday evening. All the staff were present given the importance of the programme. However, sadly we only had five parents who came along. The hardy few learned a lot about what we were hoping to achieve and how they themselves could help their children. Small numbers of parents attending school information sessions is not unusual in our school, indeed most schools across the country. However, we need to try and encourage more parents through our doors to take part in the opportunities we offer. I am hopeful that the Parental Engagement Group we just set up and which has about 20 parents attending it, will help with ideas to get parents involved more – where and when they can.
The Sad

As well as the second day of training for our seniors, we held our annual Remembrance Service on Friday. This is one of the most important days in the school calendar given the importance we place on remembering all those who gave their lives for us through the many conflicts our country has faced since the Great War. We have been holding Clan assemblies all week so that all our classes in the clans can take part in remembrance events with pupils leading the presentations on what it’s all about and why it’s important to remember. This culminates with the formal service in the assembly hall to a packed audience of senior pupils and staff. The service was led by one of our local ministers, the Reverend James Beaton and Socials teacher Kirsteen Binnie (who organises the whole event) with the Head Boy and Girl laying the wreath and members of the Senior and Junior Leadership Teams along with pupils who attended our annual Battlefields Experience all involved in readings. I played the Last Post and Reveille with Amber McWilliam –who only started to learn to play the trumpet a couple of months ago, and the bugle a couple of weeks ago. I’m very proud of her! Members of the cadet services attend too and this year the Air Cadets attended. The whole event is very moving, especially when the pupils share their own thoughts. I think this excerpt from Polly’s speech is particularly poignant and important for all of us to remember: especially those critical of our remembrance services, the symbolism of Poppies and what some see as the glorification of war through perpetual reminders:

“… I think many of us over the years have misunderstood or mis-interpreted what Remembrance is all about. We don’t remember to glorify our country, to glorify our ‘victory’. Because there was no victory, because there are no winners in war, we come together and we go to these cemeteries and pay our respects and lay poppy wreaths and remember, so that we learn. So that we look back at what we did and understand, that war is awful, for everyone no matter where you come from. Those Germans were the same as our soldiers, sent out to fight to defend their country, same as the French soldiers, the same as the Belgians, the same as every single soldier that stood on the battlefields. We aren’t remembering for our own pride, we are remembering so that we never do this again, we are remembering to learn from our mistakes….”

And this is what real education is all about, as exemplified by one of our youngsters. Adults have a lot to learn.

Human nature is very complex but clearly has two sides, good and bad, good and evil even. The desire by our school community to emotionally invest so heavily in our remembrance services throughout the week are a credit to our school, our pupils, our staff and our community partners like our Chaplaincy team, H2O and Cadets. They show the good in our community. After each of the five services were held, “You could hear a pin drop.” was a common phrase described throughout the week. It didn’t matter which clan or which age of pupil who took part, they all sat with interest and respect. Indeed, almost all our clan assemblies have high levels of interest of mature behaviour, interest and respect. Indeed, as I walk around the school, or better still tour guests around the school they often comment on how calm our school is.  Clearly it is a bit noisy at lunchtimes and the end of the day when a thousand youngsters exit the building all at once, excited to be given their free time.

The Ugly

Human nature has a split personality. We can go from showing great empathy, positivity, generosity and kindness in one hand, to revelling in the misfortunes of others and believeing that everyone is bad and the world is in chaos on the other. Bad news sells is a cliche with a great degree of truth. With this in mind it was disheartening to hear, as I did from a parent on Friday evening of the rumours perpetuated in the community by a few who would choose to do our pupils, school and community a disservice. Some hear of a fight, or hear a few children cursing in the street, see a few children drop rubbish in the street etc. and they seem to believe that all children are to be demonised and perpetuate the myth that the school is in chaos and all our children are bad, whether because their parents brought them up poorly or because we don’t punish the “bad yins” enough.
All large high schools, ours included because of the sheer numbers of young people we have, all enclosed in a single building; all at an age where teenage hormones make them more agitated and confrontational at times; all learning the boundaries of acceptable behaviour in a working environment; and all learning how to interact appropriately with both the opposite sex and with those in authority will have situations that pupils, their parents and the school (sometimes the police, social work and health) have to deal with. Yes, we very occasionally have a fight; yes we often have bullying incidents, usually caused when friendship groupings break down; yes we have pupils who swear, litter and refuse to do things they are told to do. However, these are relatively small in number given the large school we are in and when considering the hundreds of thousands of interactions that take place between our community members every year. And, these are all incidents our very professional and talented staff and community partners resolve as we educate our youngsters socially and emotionally.
If anyone ever has any doubts or concerns about how well behaved our pupils are within our school as exemplified so admirably this week, I shall be glad to give anyone the opportunity to walk around the school with either myself or one of my Deputes; and should you take this opportunity then you will see just how wonderfully talented our pupils really are; how respectful they are; how well behaved they are; and what a credit they are to us, their parents and our community.
“Don’t believe all you read in the paper” is another common cliche. Don’t believe all you hear in the street is a cliche I may have to establish. Come in and see us.

So, back to the Good…

On Friday I met with David Lafferty of D&K Lafferty. I had been telling David of our new initiative where we wanted to provide a hot breakfast and fruit to any youngster who wants to take up the offer every morning. I explained to David of the difficulties some of our children face at home, looking after family members, having to work long hours to help support their families and how this can impact on their ability to do homework or feed themselves in the morning. If we can provide a hot breakfast and fruit in the morning we are setting them up for the rest of the day, rather than letting them start the day on an empty stomach and perhaps feeling downhearted. Additionally, we will also provide staff to help them do last minute homework whilst they are with us and so relieve another possible tension before the day already begins. I must acknowledge the generosity shown by David in providing financial assistance to what could prove to be a very expensive but very worthwhile endeavour. Here’s a wee link to our promotional video.


Finally, one final example our good community. On Sunday our pupils and staff represented the school at the town’s Remembrance Service. Our pupil leadership team, musicians and staff were in attendance to pay their respects and our Head Boy, Ruairidh and Head Girl, Mila laid another wreath at the war memorial.

I do not attend the Oban service with my pupils and staff. Every year since I was 12 years old, no matter where I have lived, I have returned to my home town of Musselburgh on Remembrance Sunday to visit my family and to pay my respects at my local parish church, St’ Michaels of Inveresk, where I also play Last Post and Reveille. As the years have gone on. I have been asked to play at other venues close by together with a few friends, all of us former, proud members of the Boys Brigade. We now play at Northesk, Inveresk and Musselburgh. I have fulfilled this duty now for 37 years. As each year that passes, regardless of the venue I play at, east coast or west,  I am reminded of the humility and respect we can show for others.

Now that is Good.

Wonderful people

I mentioned in my last blog that the previous week started with me discussing bereavements amongst families in the community. This was again the case this week as sadly another couple of families suffered great loss. To add to this sorrow was the loss of one of our former teachers, Tommy Welch. Tommy was an outstanding young man with a passion for teaching and who had a great rapport with all his students. He was well regarded, indeed loved by staff, myself included. I had the great privilege to share a room with Tommy on a trip to Switzerland a couple of years ago. He made me smile with his humour and made me proud that he was on my staff because of his talent and commitment. He had Cystic Fibrosis and struggled with his breathing but this never stopped him facing any challange in life, particularly raising awareness of CF across the community. He will be sadly missed. My thoughts go out to his wife Lauren and baby son Lomond.

Regardless of the trials that face us we continue on and discussions for the day turned to meeting with a number of staff wishing support and guidance in preparation for applying for two new positions I put in the press this week. As well as looking for teachers to work in Gaelic, Art and Support, we are now looking for a Principal Teacher of Guidance and a Youth Development Worker. We are also still looking for a new School Technician, Classroom Assistants and admin support. And,  like every other school in the country we are always looking for supply staff. Please encourage anyone you know to come and join us in this beautiful part of the world.

I am always surprised by the reactions of many whom seem astonished to learn that schools don’t actually finish at half past three and that teachers don’t get all the same holidays as the pupils. Indeed I take great pleasure in letting folk know about the hard work and dedication most teachers put in outwith the pupil school day. This week is a great example of that level of dedication in OHS. On Monday evening I stood on the sidelines of the pitch alongside four other coaches as part of a weekly football training session. On Tuesday after school I chaired a committee of eight teachers who are contributing to the development of the school’s self evaluation development work and are committed to a whole series of after school sessions to write guidance papers and run professional learning opportunities for staff for the next six months. As soon as that meeting was over it was into the assembly hall to watch a Duke of Edinburgh Awards Presentation by pupils before having the privilege of awarding 33 Bronze and a dozen Silver Awards. This level of success is only possible because of the hundreds of voluntary hours another half dozen of our staff commit to training before then giving up even more time to lead the expeditions, support the volunteering part of the awards and guide the youngsters through the assessment and presentation elements of the awards scheme.

Oban High School has a huge number of staff who give up their time freely Monday to Thursday to provide extra supported study sessions after school and at lunchtime. We also run opportunities for small numbers of pupils to have somewhere to go to do their homework in the mornings and in the evenings. However I have now secured funding to roll out these opportunities to all pupils and from next week every pupil will be able to attend school every morning and get something hot to eat or a piece of fruit and something to drink – for free. This will ensure we set them up for the working day. It also allows us the opportunity to check-in on many and allow many more to do some last minute homework. Not every pupil can find the time and space at home. Additionally, we will offer homework facilities and a wee something to eat and drink at the after school homework club every Monday and Wednesday. However my point is to stress the staff commitment to giving up more free time to come to work early and stay late to ensure that we support our youngsters as best we can.

These are the sessions I discussed today. I could have added a celebratory note about all the staff who run all our extra curricular clubs every week / weekends all across the school but I’ll save that for a separate post. For the moment I just wanted to acknowledge that we have many wonderful staff (as well as parents and community volunteers!!) who go above and beyond to ensure our pupils are able to thrive in our school.

My recents blogs have been extensive. I’m trying to write a few short ones for variety. Again, they’re written to serve as a wee insight to my life as a Head Teacher and a window into what goes on in our school.


I was asked on Friday why I hadn’t Blogged anything this week. My answer was easy. Time got away from me. I have been so busy that I simply did not have time to sit and reflect and then record my thoughts. So now reflecting on the week that has passed on this sunny but cold Sunday afternoon I have a few thoughts. The first is on workload. Not necessarily my workload but everyone’s. The single biggest concern in the profession is not about pay; it’s not about more changes to the National Qualifications; or another change in direction within the Broad General Education; it’s not about the fear for of our jobs with cuts proposed across the country; or fear of the unknown degree of responsibility about to be handed to Head Teachers through the developments of the Governance review. No, the most persistent concern is about the amount of things we have to do in the limited amount of time we have to do them. 
One of the purposes of my Blog was to give the community an idea of what I do and what is going on in the school; and now I’m adding national issues too. This wee list of jobs from last Monday is a good example of a typical day in the life of practically any Secondary Head Teacher. 

Monday began as usual with an early start answering a multitude of emails about everything from budgets to the forthcoming Christmas Lunch as well as preparing for the Monday morning staff meeting. After the meeting was over there were discussions with staff about family bereavements and illnesses; approving dozens of school purchase orders; discussing the health and safety, finance and transport arrangements for a couple of foreign excursions coming up; dealing with IT concerns affecting lessons and the office management functions; corridor and canteen cover at break; teaching the Bugle at My Time; class observations in RMPS and Technical; discussions concerning the new school; phone calls to school partners due to deliver professional learning opportunities for staff and learning developments for pupils; catching up with a few managers about progress in their departments and with DHTs about forthcoming interviews this week; looking over committee papers for the following days meeting with the trade unions: and just as I paused for breath at the end of the school day… I recalled it was time to go and take the senior boys football after school with Thomas McCulloch… before attending the Parents Evening and taking the opportunity to chat to a few parents and youngsters in S3 about how they are getting on and about their thoughts on career choices for S4 and beyond. I also squeezed in the publication of Learning Live 6 and posted it on Facebook / You Tube. I make these as I walk between class visits to save time. I juggle. 

All teachers face this the problem of workload. A typical day for the class teacher will be an early start to prepare for period 1 where they might be teaching a National 4 class, before jumping straight into teaching a group of 30 S2 pupils during Period 2. Practically everyone has a My Time class to attend during Period 3 and there they ensure that progress is being made with all pupils across literacy, numeracy, health and well-being, skills and profiling or through inter-disciplinary work in Clan challenges or at assemblies.

If they are lucky, they may have a non-contact period during period 4 where they can work with colleagues on preparing lessons across other subjects (Inter-Disciplinary Learning) or meeting colleagues from the same department to moderate their courses and assessments. Perhaps the teachers within that department may all be free at the same time and allow them the opportunity to come together for a Departmental Meeting where they will have the opportunity to discuss the tracking and monitoring of pupils and the progress through the Broad General Education phase of the curriculum (S1-3). They may even use the time to carry out peer observations on another colleague and / or plan for being observed themselves. Possibly a wee bit of marking or preparing lessons for the next day could be achieved but more likely this will be left to the evening where there are less distractions. 

Period 5 may be another group of 30 S1s or perhaps only a couple of dozen National 5 / Higher pupils who come together at the same time. Both classes are equally demanding because of the breadth of ability across all the pupils in the class and the true talents of the teachers emerge as they ensure they are aware of all the individual needs of each youngster and know exactly which pupils require that extra bit of support or that extra bit of challenge. Indeed knowing which pupils work well together or individually affects how the teacher manages the class not only to ensure that each pupil gets the best out of working with a peer but which pupils works best from being apart from others.  

Lunch and a bit is sustenance ensures the energy levels are renewed to cope with taking on the extra lunchtime club or providing a bit of extra subject related supported study for those who can’t make the after school sessions. 

Then it’s onto Period 6 and the cover class that has been handed to the teacher because a teacher is absent due to illness or out on a necessary training course (we all have to keep up to date with our own professional learning); or because there is a need to cover a vacancy… and we have a few at the moment. Finally, Period 7, the end of the day and the last class. If one is lucky it may be an Advanced Higher class, where the numbers are fewer but just as demanding as they are so very keen and their questions ever so much trickier than the S1s come up with. 

Hurray!!!, it’s the end of the day and just like Thomas, whom I mentioned earlier, the teachers can enjoy themselves by taking an extra curricular club in something they really enjoy before attending Parents’ Evening.   

Now, I did contemplate writing a separate entry for Depute Heads, Guidance Teachers, subject Principal Teachers, Classroom assistants, Janitors and Technicians. It even occurred to me to write about all the hard work and juggling required by the wider education team across the council. However, I’m sure you would get bored and slightly annoyed by me over-stressing the point; and that point is that everyone involved in education is busy and it is very difficult to carry out all the roles and take on all the responsibilities given to education staff each day, especially when most of the day is spent teaching. This is our most important role but it is also very restricting. It is extremely difficult to take forward all the admin, professional learning, development work, understanding standards, etc. whilst actually delivering an exposition to 30 pupils or even siting with one pupil helping them understand something…. And yet this is what we must do every day. They juggle. 

However, now I would like to revisit this typical day and consider it from pupil and parent’s perspective.  

Bessie Bain wakes up every morning at half past six. She has a long way to travel as she stays out in Appin. However, before Bessie comes to school she has to help her mother get her two siblings ready for school. Bessie’s mother has an early morning job in a B&B just like her father who works in the oil industry and already left for his “two weeks on” around 4 a.m. By the time Bessie comes to school she has already made sure her two sisters are up and about (the most difficult trial all parents face in the mornings) and made the breakfast before making sure they get to the bus on time. Despite having already attempting her homework the night before, the lure of Snap Chat until 1 am ensured that it was still not completed and so she has to try and complete the last couple of questions on the bus journey into school, ready for for her Higher English class at 9.05 a.m. 

Fortunately the homework was completed and she was able to keep up to speed with the Higher English lesson during Period 1. Then, it was onto Period 2 and she quickly tried to compartmentalise all she learned about The Great Gatsby before coming face to face with the whole concept of Human Resources in Business Studies during Period 2. As a Prefect, Bessie needs to support a younger member of her Clan with their numeracy in My Time before going to join her friends in a charity raising committee meeting at morning interval. Thereafter, she has to attend double Maths before she has her first bite to eat lunchtime – Bessie doesn’t eat breakfast – and then it’s double Pathways in the afternoon when she travels to her local Primary School to get the essential experience in working with children so she can achieve her dream of becoming a teacher.  

As soon as she has finished in the Primary it’s back to help the other senior pupils represent the school welcoming parents to the Parents’s Evening and taking the teas and coffees round the staff. Additionally, Bessie has also offered to help out at the Careers Scotland Stand advertising possibility career options. Fortunately, her mother also has to attend this S3 Parents Evening so she will get a lift home so she can get back in time to get through her Higher Geography homework, in between a bit of dinner, two episodes of Stranger Things and around 100 Snap Chat messages. Looks like homework on the bus again. She juggles. 

Bessie’s mother appreciates her help with the younger children, especially since her mother has to leave before Bessie and her siblings get on the morning bus. Her mother has a job in a local B&B and needs to leave early to make the breakfasts before going onto her role as a Chambermaid in an Oban Hotel later that morning. Her mother then has a part-time cleaning job in the afternoon. Throughout all these roles, her mother will face the same level of variety and diversity as occurs in any job. Her role like any other will see added jobs thrown in by her boss; residents will unexpectedly return to hinder her routine; there is occasionally the unexpected phone call from the school to say one of her children is unwell and needs picked up etc. All normal but stressful occurrences.

Luckily, she is normally able to go home at the same time as her two youngest and that allows her time to help them with their homework, make the dinner and carry out all the other chores that all parents have to contend with after a hard days work. Tonight however, she has to attend an S3 Parent’s Evening and make her way around the eight different teachers her youngest daughter put her down to see, and these appointments were annoyingly spread over the full 3 hour slot. However, she’ll make it home by 9 p.m. and will hopefully get a reasonably early night ready for another half past 5 start the next day, so long as she picks up dinner on the way home. She too juggles. 

Why did I just describe the same day from the perspective of four different people? 

I return to the most persistent concern raised in my opening paragraph; a concern not only made by those in education but in many walks of life. We are all very busy (and stressed as a result) and we have to acknowledge that fact and look for ways to alleviate that workload and that stress. I am pleased to note that in Education, both locally and nationally, we have recognised this issue and are looking at ways to reduce bureaucracy so we can reduce workload and make more time for our children; and ourselves.

However, that is work in progress and we in Education and those in other occupations have not yet found that balance I believe. In the meantime, I thought I would share this story to help all those in the community remind each other that we are all busy, we are all stressed at times and that sometimes we need to pause and think about walking in another’s shoes so we can best help each other. 

Finally, I would ask that everyone remembers that we all have to go to work and that we all have family and social commitments; that we remember that we are all busy. That includes our children as they too face the same work-life balance problems adults do… only they are still learning how to juggle….

Perhaps we all are.