Headteachers Prizegiving Speech – June 2007

Prizegiving Speech June 2007

Welcome to the Annual School Prizegiving.Partnership, citizenship, and change all featured in my speech last year and I find myself touching on those themes again this year when I talk later about preparation for the new Parent Council and the Diversity Days in March. But let me deal with change first.The most obvious two changes for us all in schools in East Lothian are the political changes following the elections in May – a new national government and a new administration in East Lothian Council.  However, from what I observe so far, I see no change in the national recognition that education is of prime importance to Scotland – there is a broad consensus that we need our young people to be as well-educated as possible, to be well prepared for employment, education or training whenever they choose to leave school, and to have high aspirations for themselves.  The four capacities outlined in A Curriculum for Excellence are universally accepted – successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors remain our goals.On a local level, I am pleased to say that Mr Peter McKenzie, chair of the Education Committee, has already visited this school (as the largest) and Humbie Primary School (as the smallest) and expressed an interest in our current work and our plans for the future. Councillors of all political parties have always been very supportive of their schools and the Department of Education and Children’s Services, and I believe that support will continue.In my speech this year, I would like to give a flavour of the year just past at Musselburgh Grammar School, but also look forward to developments in the year to come and to share the vision of where we think we are going as a school. I will also cover staffing changes – of which there have been quite a few.

Events of the year – School Board to Parent Council

Much time this year has been spent preparing for the introduction of the new Parent Council to replace School Boards on 1st August 2007. I am grateful to both the School Board and the PTA for their advice and support in dealing with the change. A small working group composed of Mr Schaffer, Mrs Simpson, Mrs Balloch and Mr Thornton joined me in preparing for our Open Meeting in March and in devising the new Parent Council constitution which was to be put to all Parents as members of the Parent Forum. I would want to record my thanks for their work. In devising that constitution, we wanted it to attract as many people as possible. The constitution was approved earlier this month and we now have 30 parents who wish to be involved.  Our first meeting will be in September and I am looking forward to developing new ways of working in partnership for the benefit of all pupils at the school. I am particularly encouraged by the request of parents of our incoming S1 pupils to be involved in the Parent Council.The PTA have indicated their wish to disband the PTA at their AGM in September, feeling that the new Parent Council arrangements can quite easily accommodate their interests, which in fact were often identical to that of the School Board. It seems appropriate for me here to acknowledge all those members of the PTA and the School Board both past and present for their interest in and support of the school over many years.

Events of the year – Pupils

The highlight of the year was undoubtedly the Diversity Days at the end of March, when we suspended the timetable for S1-3 on the Thursday and asked departments to create work around the theme of diversity in gender, culture and religion.  On the final day of term, we then had a completely suspended timetable with a show in the Hall, a marketplace in the transit area and tastings of different food and Fairtrade goods in the Dining Hall, and other activities like Capoeira, Bollywood dancing and African Mask Making in other locations around the school. Devised initially by the Guidance staff in the school, it was enthusiastically embraced by lots of staff and we were given tremendous support by senior pupils. The show in the Hall included a display of costumes from around the world, music from many cultures played by native musicians who came in to the school, and a Lion Dance by several pupils in S1. “The best day I’ve ever had in school” was the comment of one of the third year pupils, and there was a real buzz and excitement about the school. Staff felt the pupils learned a huge amount about the diversity of the world we live in.The authority held its Enterprise in Education awards last week and we scooped up a Gold Award quite rightly for this innovative event. We now think we have a model which we can use to meet cross-cutting themes in A Curriculum for Excellence and one which we are likely to use again.The Scottish Education Awards were held 12 days ago in the City Halls in Glasgow and we were included in the short leet of 3 finalists in the category of “Schools for All”. We were very pleased to be included as we think we are indeed a very inclusive school. The judges came out and spent time talking to the senior pupils who run a lunch club for younger pupils, to various pupils with physical disabilities, and to staff about their approach to supporting all pupils. While we did not win, we came second to Dundonald Primary, and received a cheque for £500. My congratulations incidentally to my colleague Anne McLanachan Head Teacher of Longniddry Primary who was the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award – richly deserved and in her final days of teaching as she retires at the end of this term.About 18 months ago, a group of S6 pupils taking Advanced Higher English were involved in writing plays in conjunction with the Traverse Theatre, which were then performed in public to our huge enjoyment. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the play written by Aidan Simpson and submitted as part of his course to the Scottish Qualification Authority, has now been published as part of an anthology of pupil writing called “Write Times” released this month. A copy is in the school library.We are always looking to provide enriching experiences for our pupils and Mr Fruish has been working with a group of pupils on activities connected with the Prince’s Trust, a course replacing one of their Standard Grade courses. The pupils have arranged a shoebox collection for Malawi to help orphans there, and have been working in the central courtyard garden area in the last month. We can see the pupils’ enjoyment in rising to the challenges set for them this year.  We have also introduced the Duke of Edinburgh award this year with a group of pupils starting their Bronze Award.  They have to carry out service to others, develop a skill, take up a physical sport and go on an expedition staying away overnight. The school is very grateful to Mrs Daly, one of our parents, for her assistance and support, and I would also like to thank Ms Harden, Ms Young, Mrs Goodbrand and Mr Brown for their work this year. Work is underway in preparation for the Silver Award and for a new group at Bronze.Members of the audience will probably be aware of the government drive to prepare pupils for the world of work. We have had a group of pupils going to college in S3 last year and in S4 this year and we can see how that experience has helped many pupils realise the need to develop communication skills and teamwork, and how gaining a job might not be as easy as they first thought. However, we have also been working with East Lothian on a new initiative where S3 pupils volunteer to give up their time on Friday afternoons to attend classes in construction, mechanics, hairdressing, child care and sports at Jewel and Esk Valley College and the Shed. We have also seen this year an increase in the number of S6 pupils supporting other pupils – paired reading has occurred for several years, but we introduced peer mentoring this year, where S6 could offer advice to pupils who were struggling with settling into school, or with friendships, homework or classwork, rather than seek out their Guidance teacher or another teacher.  34 senior pupils also passed the Sports Leaders Award and we started the Senior Sports Council. 20 senior pupils have also been trained in Heartstart Emergency Life Skills.That theme of active learning is continued in outdoor education. We began the year with the Mark Scott Leadership group at Loch Eil for a week in September, culminating in presentations of certificates at the Radisson Hotel in Glasgow this month to Michelle Roberts, Jamie Ward, Allan Quinn, Stacey Cowan, David Paton and Kevin Johnston.  We took part in the various inter-school outdoor challenges, where we won the S2 and S3 challenges and were runners-up in S6 challenge. Not to be outdone, the staff won the Staff Challenge too. We had a group skiing at Hillend throughout the year, had 80 Social and Vocational Studies pupils completing coastal walks, a navigation exercise, botany and ecological lessons, gorge walking and hill-walking – not all on the one day, but over a period of time. We even had an Art and Design group from S3 visit Gullane on an outdoor education/ land art excursion. There were biology and geography field trips at various points during the year with the highlight being a trip to the French Alps for S3 pupils. On the second day, at a limestone gorge in Fieu, they met another school party unexpectedly – from Knox Academy in Haddington. Isn’t it a small world? Unplanned and utterly coincidental. Our own long-standing commitment to outdoor education seems sensible with the publication of a document this year on the importance of outdoor education written by David Cameron, our former Head of Schools.As well as outdoor activities like this, we also continue to heavily promote the value of outdoor and indoor sport and recreation. Our participation in football continues, with various teams competing against other schools on a regular basis throughout the year – but no cup wins or league championships this year, though the under 16 boys team reached the semi-finals of the Lothian Cup.But it goes much further than football. We had 18 clubs running at any one time in the year, with this year’s hit sport being dodgeball.  We have our largest ever number of coaches including teachers, other staff, senior pupils and parents, former pupils and community coaches.  We are also experimenting in less traditional areas – let me mention three. First, we are piloting a project by Sports Scotland called Girls in Sport to encourage girls to participate: we have 10 after-schools clubs dedicated to female participation. The Dance one is run by two Sports Leaders and has been nominated by SportsScotland for a Sports Innovation Project award. Second, we have also delivered HeartStart CPR training to 23 pupils as part of an alternative PE curriculum. Third, we are also running a Transition Club for P6-S1 pupils on the last Friday of every month to get them engaged early in activities. You can find out more on the website – www.mgssportsonline.typepad.com.I would like to single out three sports competitors at this point. John Hamilton, now in S5, has been invited to the UK School Games in August for Judo – this is really a mini-Olympics event identifying talent for the Olympic Games in 2012. Sarah Warnock, also now in S5, finished second in the Scottish Schools Long Jump event in June, and will represent Scottish Schools in Wales in July. Sarah also took part in a UK School Games at Glasgow earlier this year. Craig Owenson has spent much of his year juggling the academic demands of his courses while attending the Scottish Institute of Sport as an elite rugby player. Congratulations to all three pupils.As well as sporting competition and participation, we encourage our pupils to take part in competitions and we did well in the UK Mathematics Challenge. 150 pupils entered from S1-S4– with John Gibson of S1 achieving a Gold award, only reached by the top 6% in the whole of Britain. There were 23 silver awards in the same competition, which placed these pupils in the top 17% in the UK. Ross Dowie and Callum MacKinnon of S2 also won Gold in the Scottish Mathematics Council Challenge. We also came third out of the 20 schools who entered the Salters Festival of Chemistry held by Heriot Watt University – the four pupils from S1 being Fraser Pike, Katherine Burns, Joanne Stewart and John Gibson.We encourage pupil creativity as much as possible and I would just like to give you a flavour of the year here. We had 7 musicians representing the school at the Rotary Young Musician Competition in January, with Michelle Roberts taking second place for senior vocals and Laura Paterson also taking second prize in the junior instrumental section for her trumpet performance. There were also many good passes in the Trinity College Exams, with Emma Rathband of S3 having a distinction in Grade 5 Clarinet – which is at Advanced Higher level for S6 pupils. We were also treated last week to an excellent Summer Concert with a larger orchestra and choir than in previous years and our pupils were heavily represented in the East Lothian Music Showcase back in March. Our Art Department had a very busy year in developing pupils’ creativity too, being involved in a Church and School art project, an S1 recycling logo competition, an Edinburgh College of Art workshop which led to pupils making their own three-dimensional sculptures, a visit to the Pixar Exhibition on animation at the New Museum of Scotland followed by a competition won by Lauren Tuckey of S2. While we are not planning to have the big Gig on the Grass event this year at the end of term, we have had the Big Gig in June indoors showcasing dancers, bands, and stand-up comedian Mark Hannah of S1 – performing to an audience of 500 pupils. Footage and photos of that event will soon be uploaded onto the school website. Special mention however should be made of the departing S6 band “Havana Fayre” who recorded a demonstration EP as part of the new Higher Sound Engineering course and they are now playing the Edinburgh live music scene including a session at Jools Holland’s Jam House.Finally, just some indicators of the drive towards healthy schools, which in some way overlaps with the work done by Mr Woodhead our Active Sports Co-ordinator and the PE Department.  Ms McAvoy our PT Health Education has had a very busy year assisted by other staff and senior pupils.All staff involved in extra-curricular activities were asked to highlight pupils particularly involved and we presented 100 sports water bottles branded with the school logo to them at various house assemblies. We ran a health related Fund Raising Event for S1 and S2 pupils where pupils had to take part in one hour of non-stop activity. They raised over £4500 which was split between the British Heart Foundation, the Sick Kids Hospital and the school fund.One successful after school club has been the Girls Health and Fitness Club where they can test their own levels of health and fitness, enjoy a fitness class and get advice on a healthy diet. We were also involved in Ian Wright’s Fitter School Campaign. We have also worked with the school nurse to introduce a smoking cessation group to help pupils give up smoking rather than just punish them when we catch them. The final health-related event of the year occurred on 11th -13th June when we had a Health Focus Week, including interactive workshops, information stalls and a trial of the new healthy menu in the Dining Hall. Elite Catering are also continuing to assist us to offer healthier options to pupils with no sweets, cakes or crisps on sale in the school from August.

Looking to the Future – Leadership

I am very conscious as Head Teacher that we are the biggest school in the authority with 105 teaching staff and about 35 ancillary staff. It is very important that all staff in the school feel valued and aware of the priorities of the school each year, which is why we intend to move towards accreditation for the Investors in People award. It is equally important to me that we are training the leaders of tomorrow’s schools and that there is not a leadership vacuum left as members of an ageing profession slip into retirement. People tend to hearken back to some golden age of teaching but I might be inclined to say that this is a very good time to be involved in education and have a child in the education system. Let me offer some examples.Newly qualified teachers are guaranteed a place in one school for a year; those teachers only teach 70% of a timetable to allow them to develop an understanding of the professional standards and responsibilities we expect of staff, and this greatly benefits them in subsequent years; they are given very strong support from the authority’s indication programme and from the school programme organised here by Mr Connelly. These teachers are very comfortable with ICT and regard it not with suspicion but with open arms as a teaching tool to bring young learners into the world of deep learning.We have a commitment to reducing class sizes in English and Mathematics in S1 and S2 to an average of 20 – this will benefit all pupils in this school and in every school in the country. We are recognising that one curriculum does not fit all and we are being given licence to try out new ideas with our pupils and to make them ready for the world of work.Leadership in our complex world cannot only reside in the Head Teacher of a school: there have to be layers of leadership in an organisation but there also has to be a culture of leadership from top to bottom. I want staff in this school to be assuming leadership roles from the beginning of their careers right to the end and I would like to think we will soon operate in a culture that uses the words “I can…” rather than “Can I…”.Indeed I would like to take this further beyond the staff to the pupils. There have been instances this year where the pupils have run ahead of the staff and exhibited leadership. They took a very strong lead in the recycling drive and have shown real commitment to that; they are quite emphatic about the need for pupils to have access to water during the day; and they offered suggestions about how to make life better for the younger pupils in the school. As a school, we need to be listening more to the views and experiences of our pupils to do a better job and there is an intention to develop that pupil voice in the coming year. Many of the young people with us tonight will be the future leaders of tomorrow.

Looking to the Future – Building a Learning Community

This brings me to my next point. We spent some time as a senior management team in April deliberating the needs of the school and the priorities we should pursue over the next 3 years. Our intentions can be rolled up into one phrase – Building a Learning Community. That Learning Community has four aspects – for pupils, for staff, for parents, and for the wider community. Let me take each of those in turn.The Learning Community for pupils is the most obvious aspect – delivery of a variety of courses suited to a pupil’s needs, interests and abilities, delivered in a mixture of learning styles, with an emphasis on achievement as well as attainment, where pupils work with staff in sympathetic relationships, where staff do not give up on pupils, and where pupils believe they can achieve and persevere in their learning.The Learning Community for staff is also straightforward – where staff are encouraged to develop their subject knowledge and their knowledge about successful strategies for teaching; where staff share their knowledge and best practice, learning from each other; where they can find time to pursue their professional interests and have continuing professional development. Developing the leaders of tomorrow is also crucial to this learning community for staff: we want staff to be ready for the promotions which will occur in their career not flounder until they find their feet.The Learning Community for parents is possibly a crucial area. As parents we all know that parenting is hard – we love our children but there are times when they sorely try our patience and our heart sinks when we hear ourselves repeating phrases that our parents said to us! But our children need us more than they think and we should not allow them to shut us out of their education. We are going to work very hard in the next three years to improve the quality of our communications with you – both by paper and electronically. We are going to address the issues that parents raise collectively with us as a Parent Council. We are going to try to run special workshops on things that matter to you  – such as your concerns about Internet safety and chatrooms.  I have said for some years that educating a child involves the child, the parent and the school and each corner of that triangle has a vital part to play.The Learning Community for the Wider community arises from a recognition that there are times when our reputation in the community is lower than we would like. It only takes a few pupils to be irresponsible and be poor citizens for many people to think that all pupils are like this. The vast majority of our pupils are honest, hard-working and do care about other people and their own futures – though they may have the occasional slip! We need to get the good news out to the wider community on a regular basis to counter that negative perception. We need to reach out further into the community beyond our regular contacts with the local Rotary Club, the Honest Toun Association and the Community Council, and we could be doing more to establish links with our local primary schools. My own newsletters often give you good news, but do not reach further beyond those with contacts with the school. Our intention is to have three more glossy newsletters each year to give a better flavour of the school and to develop departmental use of the school website so parents have a clearer understanding of the work pupils do, the standards we expect, and so that we can acknowledge success. Using the website will also allow the local community to access what we do.Staffing changesMr MacKinnon who has spent 16 months as Acting Head Teacher at North Berwick High School, will not be returning in August as he will be an Acting Quality Improvement Officer for the authority for a year. Mrs Booker will remain Senior Depute meantime and Mr Bray will also remain as Acting Depute Head Teacher. There were several promoted post appointments. Mr Richardson joined us as PT Modern Studies and Religious and Moral Education in October, not long after we appointed Ms Chisholm as PT History and Geography. Mr Waugh joined us in January as PT Modern Languages following the retiral of Mr Meldrum.  Mrs Gieben joined us last year as PT for the Communication Base and has done a very good job in helping pupils on the autistic spectrum adjust to life in a very large secondary school, but has decided to return to outreach work for all the schools in East Lothian. Mrs Murphy – herself with experience of these pupils in outreach work – will be acting PT until the post is advertised later this year.Two members of staff return to us after secondment – Ms Bovill as PT English – and my thanks to Mrs Craigie as Acting PT English  – and Mr McNaught as PT Guidance – and my thanks to Miss Morton as Acting PT Guidance.  There will be further changes in Guidance as Mrs Neri will be leaving in September for North Berwick High School as PT Guidance.The English Department is undergoing considerable personnel changes. We lose Ms Moore who is leaving us to be PT English at Drummond High School, replaced by Mrs McIntyre.  Mrs Jackson became a permanent member of staff replacing Miss Henderson and Mrs Neill joins us permanently having been a newly qualified teacher here this session. Mrs Wetherby and Ms Wright will also join that department as maternity cover for Ms Young and Mrs Fraser.  You will be relieved to hear that things are and were less changeable elsewhere. During the year, Ms Howie joined the History Department in September; Mr Thorbjornson joined the Physics Department permanently following Mr Bowers’s appointment as PT Guidance in Seton House, and Mrs Taylor joined the Home Economics Department in November. In August, Mrs Mulholland in Biology is being replaced by Ms Munro; Mrs Douglas joins the Mathematics Department from Preston Lodge High School; Mr Hall is remaining with us in Craft, Design and Technology; and Mr Walker joins the Business Education department slightly in advance of Mrs Mitchell’s retiral in September.Our newly qualified teachers who stay with us for one year have given us very good service and again I compliment Mr Connelly who acts as our co-ordinator here.  Our best wishes go to Ms McGravie, Mr Steele, Mr Glynn, Ms Ritchie, Ms Somerville, Mr Murdoch and Mr Webb in their future careers. We will have 7 newly qualified teachers joining us this session and I will cover that group in my September newsletter.We have also been well served by several staff who have been with us for at least 6 months of the year covering maternity absences – Mrs Rae in various subjects, Mr Gilmore in History, Mrs Lawrence and Ms Shone in Art and Design, and Mr Cunningham in English.

I have reached the end of my speech this evening, looking back and looking forward. In summary, I see a school in very good heart, a school very focussed on the importance of learning and teaching but a flexible school, willing to innovate for the benefit of the pupils who come here.

With respect to all other staff in East Lothian, I have the most interesting and most satisfying job in the county and I would not swap places with another person. In conclusion, I would like to thank the staff of the school who embrace the concept of flexibility so freely, to the parents who support us in so many ways, and to the young people rewarded this at this prizegiving – you make us all very proud of you when you get it right so often. Thank you all very much. 

Ronnie SummersHead Teacher

27th June 2007

One thought on “Headteachers Prizegiving Speech – June 2007

  1. Thanks for sharing this, it’s helpful in letting those of us who didn’t have a chance to hear it first time round know where MGS is heading, and how we, as part of the extended Learning Community, might help.

    There are clearly a lot of good stories to tell, and I look forward to seeing more of these published as and when they happen as the role of on-line communications develops.

    A great advantage of on-line communication is that it’s so easy and quick there’s no need to process it in batches, as happens with traditional newsletters. Clearly the monthly newsletter still has an important role, but it can’t avoid containing news that’s up to a month old.

    Have you considered publishing short posts here as soon as you’ve an interesting story to tell? That kind of day-by-day story would be compulsory reading for a lot of people in the MGS Learning Community, who could comment on the individual stories if they had something to say at the time.

    And in next year’s speech, you’d have a ready-made source of news stories, and comments, that you could link to from the text.

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