Ladies and gentlemen, Chief Executive, guests, pupils and staff of Musselburgh Grammar School, I’m delighted to have the chance to talk to you tonight about the last twelve months in the school and also about my experience as Head Teacher in that time. It does not feel like 365 days have passed since I stood on this stage last year for the same purpose – a school year passes faster and faster since I first came here in August 2003.
As in other years, my address to you falls into four sections which do overlap at times – an overview of Scottish education, an indication of my involvement in Scottish education beyond headship of this school, an appreciation of retiring staff and an overview of events in the school this year, illustrating how education is far more than events in the classroom for 27 periods per week for 40 weeks of the year. We offer a rich and varied education and our pupils learn to value our values and seize the opportunities open to them.
Allow me then to elaborate on that overview of Scottish education first of all. We are fortunate to see education appear regularly in both print and other media like radio and television. We are unfortunate that on too many occasions the story is written from a negative standpoint – probably because good news doesn’t make the headlines and complex changes and soundbite journalism are not easy bedfellows. We also now have to deal with social media – where it is too easy to offer up speculation as fact either through misunderstanding or malice – which require a speedy response to avoid damage to the reputation of the school.
I read too often about perceived problems in Scottish education and do not recognise that picture in my own school. One reason for my monthly newsletter to you is to share the good things that happen and to explain changes to you. I have also been very prepared to take the time to have extra parental meetings for Curriculum for Excellence and I will do so again for the parents of those pupils who have just started their new S4 timetable. That meeting will occur in early September and will explain the new qualification arrangements and what will occur for pupils this year. Staff here work very hard and go the extra mile: pupils here work hard and take advantage of the opportunities opened up to them. I spoke a week past on Monday to the new S4 pupils in a series of workshops about the challenges which will face them this year and how they can be successful.
We are now in the fifth year of seven years of change as part of the Curriculum for Excellence programme. By this time, schools across Scotland have delivered changed courses for pupils in S1-S3; have written informative reports for each year; and have now delivered the S3 profile as required. Education Scotland and the Scottish Qualification Authority have arranged briefing meetings for subject staff, for verifiers of the new qualifications, and for SQA co-ordinators and senior staff including head teachers. We have had 11 Briefing Papers on curriculum matters – and in fact one might argue that the volume of paperwork to read and internalise is contributing to the pressure staff are feeling.
I was amused at Cabinet Secretary Mike Russell’s assertion at a recent education conference that head teachers are adding to the bureaucracy for teachers. The reality is the opposite – I sift out piles of material that comes to me and decide what is essential for all and only necessary for some. I use the round file extensively – i.e. the waste bin both virtually and in reality –and on a daily basis. Mr MacKinnon and I have a very good system because of our backgrounds as English and Mathematics teachers: if it’s words, it’s mine; if it’s figures, it’s his. I do think he has the better deal!
What is not in doubt from any quarter is that staff are working extremely hard to make the new qualifications a reality while continuing to prepare older pupils in S4-6 for the current examinations.
You will be aware that this process of change is taking place against a backdrop of increasing financial austerity. Local authorities have to take very hard decisions about their priorities and corporate responsibilities. You would expect me as Head Teacher of this school to argue for the importance of education and indeed I will. I am personally opposed to asking all parts of the council to shoulder cuts to budgets on an equal basis since I believe some things are more important than others. Education cannot consider itself immune from requests for savings but there has, however, to be a clear understanding that education has high fixed costs (primarily salaries) which make up a very large proportion of our budget. We have already made savings in each of the last 5 years and it will be difficult to make further savings without that impacting on the education of pupils. We will continue to work with officers of the council to deliver the best service we can on the budget available to us.
Education in East Lothian does not work in a vacuum and we were notified in January – as a late Christmas present – that we and our cluster nursery and primary schools were to receive a Professional Engagement visit from Education Scotland staff the next month on the topic of health and wellbeing. These engagement visits are quite new and we were not sure what to expect – but they were, we discovered, more of a fact-finding visit by Inspectorate staff to identify good practice. It was gratifying to find out just how well our staff had understood that they were all responsible for pupil health and wellbeing – diet, exercise, mental wellbeing – and the feedback to us all was good.
Our Parent Council, one of the most active in East Lothian, approached us with a view to holding a Careers Fair for all pupils on Friday 7th June. That was a huge success involving a tremendous amount of preparation and we have received very positive feedback from the exhibitors who came that day and from the pupils themselves. It is a very good example of parental partnership with the school for the benefit of pupils.
You will be aware that Don Ledingham Executive Director of Education and Children’s Services will leave the authority in late July. It would be inappropriate for me to omit reference to this especially since my son attended Dunbar Grammar School when he was Head Teacher. I am sorry to see him depart the authority: he gave East Lothian national prominence because of the suggestions he made on how education should be arranged for the benefit of pupils. He was one of the prime movers in the development of the Hospitality and Tourism Academy, of which more later. His phrase “unconditional positive regard” reminds us that children make mistakes and it is important for teachers both to accept this without qualification and not to give up on any child. His educational view was inclusive not elitist. I know he was hugely appreciative of the work staff did in dealing with challenging children here and elsewhere. I also know how hard he worked in recent years to find savings at the centre rather than cut into school budgets. I wish him well in his new role as Director of Innovative Ideas and hope that he continues to have contact with schools in East Lothian.
In November, I became President of School Leaders Scotland and it has been hugely helpful for me to be involved in high-level discussions with the significant players in Scottish education such as Cabinet Secretary Mike Russell, Education Scotland, the Scottish Qualification Authority, Universities Scotland and the General Teaching Council. It has helped me steer the school in the right direction and share that information quietly and advantageously – and sometimes in confidence – with education colleagues in the local authority and in other schools. Sometimes those significant players, because they are divorced from the day to day reality of a school, can make suggestions that look ideal on paper but which would not add value to the experience of pupils ore even send us in unproductive directions. It is important that I am empowered to raise legitimate objections on behalf of pupils, parents and staff to such organisations. In such company you learn how to phrase your concerns – and also to offer solutions too. I thus act as a figurehead for the school on that national stage and you would be surprised to hear how often people quietly praise the work we do here.
Let me move on then to describe some of that work that has occurred in the last year in the third section of my address to you. The most important thing we do is our maintenance agenda – delivering education for 27 periods a week for all our pupils, to meet their needs, to respond to what is in front of the teacher and to have the professional confidence to deviate from the lesson plan if required. Education is not a sprint but a marathon – with relays of teachers from nursery to S6 passing on the baton with each child. Success generally comes from persistence and resilience, not just innate talent. That doesn’t make for good newspaper headlines, alluding to an earlier point I made – but it’s the core of what we do and we do it well.
Bearing in mind that pupils might not recall trigonometry on a wet Wednesday afternoon in March – what might pupils and staff recall from their year if they were asked?
In Mathematics, they might recall the Enterprising Mathematics competition earlier this month where one of our two teams came 7th out of 30 Lothian schools, and we were the first East Lothian school – so we move on to national finals in Glasgow – that team composed on Seth Allen, Keir Convey, Amelia Stott, James Allison. Liam Carlyle, Alisdair Colver, Kyle Irvine and Beth Orr. In the UK Mathematics Challenge we were awarded 6 Gold, 9 Silver and 17 Bronze certificates: a Gold means you are in the top 6% of the UK. Simon Archer in S2 scored so highly in the Junior section that he was invited to participate in the Junior Mathematics Olympiad earlier this month. Two S3 pupils were invited to a mathematics masterclass at Edinburgh University. Our success is not limited to younger pupils though. As part of their Higher Mathematics course, pupils have to sit and pass interim assessments called NABs. Four pupils got 100% in each of the 3 NABS they had to sit – outstanding for Greg McLay, Beth Slight, Andrew Gibson and Moray Cumming.
In Expressive Arts subjects like Art and Music, younger pupils were working on a graffiti boards project with the Parent Council while older pupils did a Performance Show in association with other departments and we had our first Art and Design trip to London last September. 43 pupils in Music have just returned from a tour to Germany and gave us a lovely outdoor concert just before they left. That group also went busking in Asda the week before Christmas. We were heavily represented at the authority Showcase Concert for all schools in March at the Brunton Hall. We had 6 pupils at the Rotary Club Young Musician of the Year – Simon Archer taking 3rd place for Juniors and Rebecca Traynor won the senior vocal section and then progressed to the semi-finals held at Heriot-Watt University.
In Business Education and Computing, pupils attended the Christmas Cyber Lecture at Napier University and S3 Business pupils were involved in an Enterprise event in December, with S2 pupils involved in a Financial Awareness and Money Management programme in March.
S6 pupils are likely to remember the Dalguise Leadership weekend in September and their Show in December in this Hall as well as the Senior Ceilidh on Burns Night.
The Support for Learning Department has had its usual busy year – dealing with the Scottish Disability Sport Association for two wheelchair pupils and others, visiting the Scottish Museum, a Ceramics Experience, East Links Farm, participating in various inter-school events, various indoor and outdoor athletics on a regional basis too. Alex Muir was awarded Young Sick Kids Fundraiser of the Year and Seam McCann played Boccia for Scotland and was selected for trials for the Paralympic Boccia team.
Sport remains an important part of what we do here – Miss Ramsay working as our Active School Co-ordinator whipping up enthusiasm for our new P7 pupils on their visit and getting them to sign up for various clubs, for example. I have just found out today that she has been successful in her application to be Head of Girls Sports at a school down in England. I am sorry to lose her – I will miss her can-do attitude and willingness to throw herself into the life of the school. Mrs McSherry has been working with a group of girls and a professional choreographer to prepare a dance to promote the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next year – you have probably seen photographs from this in various newspapers. The piece will be danced publicly in August. Our Badminton Group flourishes with more and more pupils involved each year and with increasing success. Morgan Naples, Calum Ferguson and Jason Cameron all won medals in the East and Mid Lothian competition, with Jason selected for the East and Mid Team in the Scottish Championships. We came third in the inter-schools golf event with Jack Valentine runner-up in the scratch event and Declan Henderson runner up in the handicap event. Lewis Bain was selected to represent East Lothian in the Scottish Schools Championship and for the Lothians in the Scottish Boys Team Championship. Stuart Blair qualified for the knock-out stages of the Lothian Men’s Championship for the 3rd year running. Sophie Bain won Monktonhall Ladies Golf Club Championship, the youngest ever to win this. Various pupils also were supported in their pursuit of junior and senior sports leadership qualification. Finally, Ross Muir in S5 has finally achieved his dream of becoming a professional snooker player. I’m awaiting my personal invitation to the Crucible Theatre
More generally, we received huge support from local groups like the Rotary Club, the Red House Trust, East Lothian Education Trust and the Jimmy Harrison Trust Fund and to allow Mr Forrest to take away a group of pupils to the Camas project on the Isle of Mull. Pupils were astonished when they arrived – to find that they could not get a signal on mobile phones – shock horror to have to talk to people face to face!
Other trips went near to Edinburgh like the Royal Highland Show and a Genetics workshop in the Botanic Gardens and far on to France with the Battlefields Trip and Watersports trips, two trips to London and even over to America with the Modern Studies Department.
All of this does not cover various visitors coming to the school, Geography field trips, the Christmas Show and Marketplace and Christmas Concert, fundraising events, Bronze Duke of Edinburgh expedition, competitions entered, revision classes taking place during the year and at Easter, a Mathematics project using receipts from Tesco to identify pupil eating habits with the primary schools, debates, the S1 Health Day, PSE recycling projects and liaison with the outside community such as St Anne’s Care Home….. and many more. Far more than chalk and talk.
But I’m going to pause to mention finally here one particular project in more depth because it has been the most rewarding professional initiative I have ever been involved in. Three schools – Ross HS, Preston Lodge and ourselves – have been working with Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh College and employers to develop the Hospitality and Tourism Academy. The academy seeks to combine academic knowledge and practical skills to raise the profile of the tourism industry and develop transferable skills. Mr Forgan in Home Economics has been closely involved for us and done a wonderful job in helping the pupils. Parents, pupils and partners stood in the Scottish Parliament last September where Lauren Cain addressed over 150 people from the staircase of the Parliament and fittingly last night the pupils involved received their course certificates for Intermediate 2 Skills for Work at the university. The initiative has generated huge interest from outside and the academy programme is now extending into creative industries, health and social care and food science. All 10 pupils have now graduated from their course with several moving into Year 2.
Finally, staffing changes 2012- 2013. Since there are so many changes in staff in over the year, I gave you this in writing on a separate sheet on your chair, but there are several staff retiring whom I will mention in more detail in the fourth and final section of this report.
Mrs Howarth has been PT Home Economics here since 1987 and latterly took up the post of PT Health and Wellbeing. Often the first member of staff in the car park in the morning, she has run a very effective and important department in the school and her careful management of resources has resulted in the best-appointed set of kitchens and work areas in the whole authority. Congratutions on such a successful career and enjoy your retirement. Mrs Souness was PT Biology here for many years – in fact from 1998 but a teacher from 1979 and a Senior Teacher in 1990 – and has seen her department increase in size and have many more pupils in the department from S3 onward, with many continuing with the subject to Higher and indeed to Advanced Higher with a number of pupils continuing with it at university. She also introduced Higher Human Biology into the senior curriculum. I thank her for her work here and for her encouragement to colleagues in her department over the years. Mr Parker has been a presence in the Mathematics Department since 1986 moving from a school in Edinburgh, although he moved to being part-time a couple of years ago to the betterment of his golf handicap. He has run the Badminton Club for pupils for many years and been our organiser for participating in East Lothian golf competitions. He has been a dedicated and hardworking colleague and I wish him well in his retirement. Mrs Storey in Support for Learning came to us last August having spent many years in a different support role in the authority. She very quickly established herself here as a caring and supportive teacher for pupils in her care and a great help to Mrs Wills. She too has now decided to retire and I’m sure staff across the authority who know her will join our own staff in hoping she has a long and prosperous retirement. Mrs Steele has been our Librarian here since 1976 sharing the post with Mrs Scott now for some years and she too has decided to retire. The Library for all schools is an important learning hub – it encourages pupils in their own personal reading of fiction, it is an important resource for boys who have a large stock of non-fiction to get their teeth into, it has computer access for those who do not have this facility and home, and here it also holds a very well stocked Careers Library. Mrs Steele has always been an encouraging presence in the Library for both staff and pupils and I hope she enjoys her retirement.
As I said at the beginning, I came here in 2003 – it feels paradoxically like a long time ago and yet the years have gone in very quickly. Is it still rewarding being Head Teacher of Musselburgh Grammar? – yes indeed. I still get up in the morning knowing I make a difference to the lives of pupils who attend this school, just like every member of staff in this establishment. Thank you to all parents here for your support over the year and my thanks to other colleagues in East Lothian here tonight for your assistance over the last 12 months. To my pupils, well done and you will soon receive tangible reward for your hard work from the table on my right.
26th June 2013