I am delighted to be able to address you this evening in my annual prizegiving speech. I am always delighted by the turnout at this final event of the year and pleased to see so many familiar faces.
Last year, having been in the school 6 years, I used the term “generational review” to look back over those 6 years, and I see from previous speeches that the theme of change has often featured. It is in the nature of a prizegiving speech to look back over the academic year which has just passed and I will highlight for you a number of events which occurred, as I usually do in the third section of my speech, after I have elaborated on the staffing changes in the second section.
However, in this first section of my speech, I would also like this year to look forward to the next few years to discuss the challenges which lie ahead – and these are not just for this school, but for many schools and for the country as a whole. I think these challenges relate to finance, to capacity for improvement, to curriculum development– and a final challenge of attitude and aspiration.
Let us begin with finance. The near-collapse of the world banking system has left many countries with a toxic legacy – as we have already seen in the last few months in Greece, with high unemployment in Spain, and now with an austerity budget in Britain to try to bring levels of debt back to more manageable levels.
The last few years have been a challenge for local authorities and schools as they attempt to balance their budgets. Up to now, the approach has been salami-slicing – all budgets thinly cut back. The next few years are going to be a bigger challenge, since I think structural changes and a reappraisal of what we all do will be required to effect the level of savings required. East Lothian is already looking to work with neighbouring authorities to see what savings can be made by having joint services – these are called back office savings – and that is an example of a structural change. But I think we all need to bear in mind one simple question in relation to the services we provide – what is essential and what is desirable? An authority may decide to compress its workforce to make savings and pass tasks on to schools – but the schools may not have the manpower to carry out these tasks. Better to ask if the task needs to be carried out in the first place – is it essential or is it desirable? That question also needs to be asked by authorities and central government, which gathers more and more information every year, and I have made this point both to the Executive Director of Education Don Ledingham but also to Michael Kellet, one of the Scottish Government’s very senior civil servants – both agree. We are all going to have to shed some of our preconceptions about what we do. For teachers in classrooms, this question may not be hard – teaching children is an essential task, and there are legal maximum class sizes. For other areas of education, it might be less straightforward since prompt support to a family might prevent family breakdown and consequent huge costs if the children end up in care, so you need to have a very good grasp of the behind-the-scenes impact of someone’s job. However, Alan Blackie, our Chief Executive, speaks very positively about the role we all have in corporate parenting – so the provision of all support services to children and families is an essential part of what East Lothian does. But the authority and all schools will need to make time and work together to tease out the “essential” question.
The second challenge relates to capacity for improvement, as I am concerned that people assume that a diminishing budget automatically means that a school cannot continue to improve, or that standards will fall. As Head Teacher, I cannot allow that assumption to go unchallenged. The core of education continues – teachers teach and pupils learn. We have a generation of children coming in to the school and we owe it to them and the Musselburgh community to provide them with the highest standard of education that we can. As Head Teacher, I will of course be arguing for my share of the education budget and will defend the interests of the school, but I expect everyone in the school to be as professional as ever, to continue to have high expectations of our pupils, and to help all pupils achieve their potential. I do not think we have reached our peak as a school – we are still on that journey to excellence.
The third challenge relates to curriculum development, particularly in relation to A Curriculum for Excellence. Let me declare an interest here – I am a member of the Management Board for A Curriculum for Excellence and thus have an interest in ensuring that the programme is implemented as smoothly as possible across all areas of Scotland, not just in this school. This is by far and away the most extensive curriculum change ever in Scotland, from 3-18 and beyond, as it has implications for the college sector and not just schools. In the past, we have had two-year blocks of change, such as for Standard Grade and for Higher Still. This is a 7-year development programme which we started in August 2009 to prepare for the arrival of S1 in August 2010. Development work will roll on each year thereafter and our school improvement plan will continue to reflect this – giving staff time to develop these new courses, time to discuss the type of assessments we will use, time to cross-mark assessments and time to write reports, and the Cabinet Secretary Mike Russell has added in-service days to assist staff in overtaking these tasks. While I understand the anxiety that staff have in implementing such a large programme, it is important to stress that there is a programme framework and timeline which we will follow. We will also benefit from the support structures and materials from Learning and Teaching Scotland, SQA and Scottish Government. Let me use an old joke which I used with the staff to illustrate my point – how do you eat an elephant? In very small bites. So we do not baulk at the size of a 7-year development programme, we break it down into a series of smaller tasks implemented in shorter timescales.
I am confident that S1 next year will benefit from the review of courses we have undertaken. I think they will enjoy and engage with the work that they are asked to do – and I intend asking them in September about the experiences they are having as I follow a couple of classes around the school for a whole day. Pupils will follow a broad general curriculum from S1-S3 before moving into the senior phase from S4, when they will follow SQA certificated courses. I know teachers want to be sure that those SQA courses will articulate with what pupils have been studying S1-3. SQA also know this and are thus publishing progress reports on their website about those qualifications. All agencies involved want A Curriculum for Excellence to be successful and Musselburgh Grammar School is no exception to that.
This brings me on to my fourth challenge – attitude and aspiration – and this challenge is not just a local one, but also a national one. This audience is full of young people tonight who have a positive attitude and who have aspirations for themselves – and I am certain that they have inherited those attitudes from their parents and possibly also elder brothers and sisters. I often describe this school as a very comprehensive comprehensive – we have a very wide range of abilities in our pupil population. But if I have a mixed-ability school, I also have a mixed-attitude and aspiration school. Many of my fellow head teachers across Scotland are in a similar position. We are all trying to close the gap between our highest and lowest attainers and yet despite our best efforts, that gap remains obstinately wide. We are also conscious of comparison of pupil performance across countries, and there is a sense that we have lost some ground. Part of the problem is that not all our pupils try equally hard to succeed and reach their potential.
Education is not like industry. Industry is a passive process – you take raw steel and manufacture it into a product: if you do not like the quality of the steel from your supplier, you go elsewhere. Schools take the pupils from their local catchment area and work with them to get a finished product – it’s an active process, since what the pupil puts in to their education affects the final product, the type of person they become and the level of qualifications they emerge with.
The pupils you see here tonight have been active in engaging with their teachers and making the most of themselves. To close that gap I spoke about earlier, many pupils need to have a more positive attitude and more aspiration for themselves. My staff work very hard and are hugely committed to the school, which is why you see so much extra curricular activity – and why they want pupils to do well. They get frustrated when that commitment is not returned by pupils.
Let me emphasise again that this is a national problem, not one particular to Musselburgh, as the OECD report pointed out. Scotland needs a well-educated workforce, which is prepared to continue learning in adult life, which is prepared for a variety of careers. All pupils need to recognise the importance of heading off to a positive destination at the end of their school career – to employment, training or further or higher education like Queen Margaret University. They can affect their own destiny by a positive attitude to life including consistent hard work and commitment from the first day they cross our door until the day they leave.
My concern for all young people is that the financial challenge I spoke about at the start leads to a loss of optimism about their future and a loss of engagement in their future. However, I would remind you of a phrase I’ve used before when I’ve taken them for assemblies – we believe in you and you must believe in yourselves. You have talents and skills and a positive attitude which will carry you far and many of you will, at a later point in your life, look back in surprise to see how far you have come. (I can assure you that when I was aged 16, I did not plan to be Head Teacher of a very large and successful secondary school on the east coast of Scotland and my rather shy 14 year old self would have been struck dumb with nerves at the thought of addressing a whole hall full of people at a prizegiving!). Believe in yourselves and say “I can…”
Let me move on to the second section of my speech, relating to staffing.
Two staff joined us on a permanent basis much earlier in the year – Mr Goodall in Mathematics following the departure of Mr Adamson, Mr McGlen into Business Education way back in August from Dunbar Grammar and we are delighted to have them both. Various members of staff departed during the course of the year – Mr Borthwick in Chemistry back to the West of Scotland, Mrs Wetherby in English back to Edinburgh.
We have a significant number of changes of staff at this time of year as well as a number of new appointments following recent interviews. Mr Scott and Mr Doak now join the PE Department on a permanent basis. Mr Ashmore will remain with us to cover maternity vacancies in Biology for Mrs Robertson and Mrs Ellis. Mr Robertson stays with us in Chemistry. Mrs Taylor will take over as Acting PT Guidance in Grange House when Mrs Jardine goes on maternity leave.
A number of staff return from maternity leave – Mrs Neill in English, Mrs Anderson in Social Subjects, and Mrs Wilkinson returns as PT Guidance in Caird House. Many thanks to Mrs Fruish who covered as Acting PT Guidance for Mrs Wilkinson. Mrs Fruish in fact will return to Guidance in August, but in Seton House this time, as Mr Bowers is going abroad on leave with his family for a year. I also have to thank Mrs Robertson who was Acting PT Guidance when Mr Semple was covering for Mr Burns. Mrs Lawrence –Peattie will return in August to the Art Department and thanks to Mrs Kazimoglu for her work with her classes.
We say farewell to a number of staff across the school and thank them for their hard work in their time here –Mrs Mansfield in English and Ms Tracey in Social Subjects. Three staff who were newly qualified teachers come to the end of their year with us – Ms Middlehurst in PE, Mr Duncan in Social Studies, Ms Lindley in English and Ms Gibson in Physics. We also have a large number of new staff joining us in August whom I will introduce in my August newsletter.
Mrs Barrass in Computing is taking up a post in Knox Academy for session 2010/11 and I am sure she will settle very quickly into her post. Ms McAvoy in PE, who has been on leave on absence in New Zealand for a year, has decided to stay on in New Zealand and has thus resigned her post – I wish her well in the Southern Hemisphere and am sure she will be just as popular with her pupils there as she was here.
Finally I’d like to thank Mr Semple for his hard work as Acting Head of Moray House while Mr Burns was absent from school for a large part of the year after Christmas. This term is always very busy and he was dealing with a lot of matters like senior school option choices which were completely new to him – the transition from Guidance to DHT was very smooth and a tribute to his professional skills and knowledge.
In the final section of my speech, I’d like to give you a flavour of events inside and outside the school in the last year, as I usually do. A former colleague once entitled this “More than Chalk and Talk” though we’ve moved upmarket to whiteboards and projectors now… I emphasise that this is only a flavour of things which occur across the school, but this is Curriculum for Excellence in action, and these activities allow pupils to develop in so many important ways.
Let’s begin with Art and Design, who had The Travelling Gallery at the sports centre a few weeks ago – S1-3 classes visited it. There is currently a ‘This is Me’ exhibition on in the school library with work being done by all S2 pupils. The very successful fashion show was last Friday, involving S3 Art & design students, with Maths selling the tickets, the show includes a couple of dance acts going to be in it, linking to PE… so a good example of a Curriculum for Excellence joint project.
I’m aware that sometimes people question the relevance and importance of Art and Design to school pupils, so I’d like to mention a former pupil, Jett Sweeney, who won the very prestigious Graduate of the Year at the Scottish Fashion Awards in Glasgow earlier this month. Part of her prize is that the dress she designed for the competition will be made and sold by Marks and Spencer in their Limited Collection range. She also has a month’s internship working with them in London. She was also the only Scot to be nominated for the top ten of the London Graduate Fashion Week.
You’ve already heard a number of our musicians. They’ve had a busy year – two concerts, and the East Lothian Showcase where they come together with other East Lothian schools in March for a public performance. Six of them participated in the Rotary Club Young Musician of the Year, with Sarah McLean winning the vocal section of the senior competition and then going on to represent the school at the Rotary District Final at Heriot Watt University in February. 43 of them are signed up for the Belgium Tour next year with £747 raised so far to support this. A group sitting the ABRSM and Trinity Guildhall Practical Music examinations, three with distinction in John Archer, Lydia MacLeod and Nathan Russell.
The Mathematics Department continue to encourage pupils to experience mathematics outside the classroom by taking part in many individual and team competitions. Last November our Enterprising Maths team represented East Lothian in the Scottish Final, in Glasgow, having been the top East Lothian school in the Lothians Area Enterprising Maths competition last June.
We have had teams taking part in the Junior and Senior Regional Finals of the UK Team Challenge. As ever, a number of our pupils took part in the UK Maths Challenge and gained 3 gold, 10 silver and 25 bronze awards. A gold places you in the top 6% in the UK, and Jamie Adams and Rachel Foley achieved this in the Junior Challenge, and Fraser Pike in the Intermediate Challenge.
We have also had success in the South of Scotland Mathematical Challenge organised by Edinburgh University with 2 Gold and 1Silver awards.
Last Thursday, a team of S2 boys took part in this year’s Enterprising Maths Competition sponsored by the four Local Authorities. They finished 11th out of 36 schools but importantly…. they were again the top East Lothian school and so will represent the Region in the National finals in November.
As many of you will know from my newsletters, we have groups looking to achieve their Duke of Edinburgh awards. We now have a group of 7 S6 pupils working towards their Gold Duke of Edinburgh as well as silver and bronze groups. It has taken 2 years to get to this stage but they have completed their practice expedition and are completing the qualifying expedition in the last week of term. 5 of them will complete the award after the expedition as they have done the other sections – the remaining two are able to complete the rest of it at some stage before they are 25. So Musselburgh Grammar will be off to meet the Duke of Edinburgh for the first time – my congratulations to all those completing awards and my thanks to all the staff who give up a lot of time supporting them.
Mrs Bonnar runs a very active Amnesty International Group in the school who were involved in four mailings, two urgent Youth Actions, and produced four editions of the school Magazine “The Mag”. Such activity reflects responsible citizenship and I’d like to acknowledge Samantha Fleming of S6 at this point, who has achieved her Bronze Millennium Volunteer Award and is now working towards her Gold award, won the
Young Volunteer Award presented by Jewel & Esk College, and was
Runner-up in the authority’s ABEL Quaich Award 2010.
I’m very conscious that I have a very active Home Economics Department in the school who do not limit themselves to classroom activities. They were involved this year in the S1 Health Day, the East Lothian Food Festival Competition, Cookery entries for the Musselburgh Flower Show, ran a coffee morning for Chest Heart and Stroke Association; and liaised with other departments and schools for the STEM project with PE, Maths, Biology; S2 French Themed Cooking; the Little and Large Competition which involves primary teams cooking to a deadline with a secondary pupil helping; and invited P6 pupils from Stoneyhill and Loretto up to bake.
As well as liaising with the Home Economics Department for the S2 French Themed Cooking, the Modern Languages Department have been able to spread their wings further, as pupils in current S3 have made friends with pupils in our French twinned town Champigny. We were able to host our French visitors this year and we are looking to develop those links as the French pupils move up to the lycee. We ran an Intermediate 2 Italian class this year and have developed pen pal links with our Italian twinned town Rossignol. Not to be outdone, class 1M1 are taking part in a link with another school in Boissy St Georges and finally, we are looking to establish links with Islay High School using GLOW as a way for pupil to compare and contrast their very different school experiences in a small island school and a large urban comprehensive – developing skills in literacy, in French and also potentially in Gaelic.
You can see that we are keen for pupils to participate in inter-school events. Another one of these was the annual Stock Market Challenge run by Standard Life – 4 of our S3 pupils were involved in a simulated stock market activity trying to make as much money as possible in the session, and these budding entrepreneurs finished 3rd out of 20 schools despite being one member of the team short. Mr McGlen was very complimentary about their enthusiasm and their attitude throughout the day.
At a time when there is a lot of concern in Scotland about the fitness levels of young people and participation rates in sports, it is very pleasing to me to move on to recognise various sporting activities and achievements by our pupils throughout the last year.
In football, our under-14 boys won the Lothian League and lost very narrowly in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup to the eventual winners. The under 15 girls also reached the semi-final of the Scottish Cup. The Additional Support needs football team came 2nd in the East Lothian disability 5-a-side festival. In rugby, two of our pupils Ryan Gray and Ruaridh Young were selected for the under 17 National Training Squad, and Ryan was part of the team who beat England 7-5 – I wish both pupils well for the future. In golf, we came second in the East Lothian Golf League, with Scott Speakman representing East Lothian at the recent Scottish Schools Golf Championship. Greg Smail was Musselburgh Amateur Junior Champion and was Captain of the Craigielaw Junior Team which won the British Championship in Spain. The after school Badminton club continues to flourish with ever increasing numbers. This year over 60 youngsters have come along, with a number trying it for the first time. In Dance, we had groups from S3 and S4 at the East Lothian Dance Festival, who also participated at the Telford College dance show, with three pupils also part of the East Lothian Youth Dance Company.
We have been leading the Young Ambassadors in Sport programme in East Lothian with Kirsty Hogg and Michael Louden taking on leading roles – with Kirsty actually the Golden Ambassador in the authority and she will be used to mentor future young ambassadors.
In athletics, the S3 girls came first in the East Lothian cross-country and the senior girls were winners in their section in the County Athletics.
We have a hugely talented gymnast in Eilidh Craig in S1 who has already been selected for the 4th International Gymnastics Trophy in Madrid and has been over to Russia to train – she is described as having the potential to be selected for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow – you heard it here first.
We also seem to have a group of very talented swimmers, since William Sauyngam and Emma Hunter were Scottish Champions, but others joined them last week at Scotland’s Commonwealth Games Trials – Kirsty Hunter, Rachel Sharples, Emma Stewart, Rachael Stewart, Emily Atkinson and Cameron Craig.
Finally, Josh Spalding won the Edinburgh and Lothians bowling tournament recently and Ross Muir continues his very successful snooker career with high quality performances in national events. He is British Star of the Future Winner for under 15s, ranked no.5 for Scottish under 21 players and ranked no. 12 for all Scottish snooker players, the first 3 being professional players.
All the people I’ve mentioned by name deserve credit for their ability to juggle the training demands of their sport along with their schoolwork – no easy thing to manage.
This brings me to the end of my speech for this year. I am, as ever, very conscious of the achievements of the young people in this school. I think it is important that we celebrate their successes as loudly as we can, if only to counter the impression that a small number of anti-social young people give to society in general. However, let me finish on a very positive note with an anecdote. I met a former head teacher colleague at a conference at Dynamic Earth recently – she is now acting as a professional advisor in Scottish Government and lives locally. She ran a large urban school too. “Just to say”, she said, “there are lots of people in the Scottish Government offices who live in Musselburgh and I’ve heard lots of positive comments about your school and about your pupils.” So, my pupils, your positive actions ripple out well beyond your local area.
My thanks to all my pupils, all my staff and to you all as parents for your assistance to me in the last year as Head Teacher and I look forward, but not too quickly, to another successful session in August 2010.