Thursday 23 September 2010

Chinese studies at Liberton High

This afternoon I was privileged to accompany a group of pupils (Alex, Kelly, Austin and Colin) with Mrs McKerrecher (Principal Teacher of Languages) to our local Confucius hub at St Georges School for girls in Edinburgh. Our pupils had been invited to participate in making a short film illustrating how Chinese Studies is developing in curricula in schools in Scotland. I was so proud of how incredibly well our pupils presented their new found knowledge of Manadarin and Chinese Culture! I am reliably informed that Alex Salmond (First Minister) will be using this film as part of his official visit to China in the near future!

I am delighted to share that we are making excellent progress in developing Chinese Studies as part of our curriculum at Liberton High. Mrs Mckerrecher has been doing some fantastic work in sharing her enthusiasm for learning languages with pupils and colleagues. This session, in addition, to French, German and Spanish we are alos offering Mandarin and Chinese Studies to pupils across the school. There are also plans to Link with with our Chinese Community School to offer Chinese studies to our local primary children as part of out transition work. Watch this space for details of our progress!

Thursday 1 April 2010

Visit to no.10 Downing Street

Thursday 18 March began like any other day. I arrived at school at around 8.10 am and signed in as usual. Following a brief chat with a few colleagues I then returned to my office to read the day's correspondence. On my desk was a telephone message which said ''Are you available to go to number 10 Downing street on Monday afternoon, please call 0131....''! My initial thought was that this must be an early April fool prank from one of my colleagues. I 'phoned the number to discover that this was indeed a genuine call. My local MP, Nigel Griffiths had been asked to nominate someone in education who had made a positive impact on their school and community, and had invited me to go. I was delighted to accept the invitation and, having made the travel arrangements, i was looking forward to visiting London.

Anticipating travel delays, resulting BA strikes, i chose to travel down on Sunday arriving at Heathrow at around 5 pm. It was lovely to stay with great friends in the north of London who I hadn't seen for over a year.

On the Monday morning, I set off from Cockfosters station at around 10.30 am, arriving at Embankment station at 11.15 am. As it was a lovely day I walked along the Thames to Westminster Palace in plenty of time. As I wasn't meeting Nigel until 1230 I had time to do a bit of sightseeing.

After passing through security at the House of Commons I made my way to the central lobby where I met Nigel. We had a superb lunch in the Commons restaurant followed by coffee in an adjacent lounge. Seared scallops on a bed of salad, followed by roast loin of pork was quite a contrast to my typical Monday school lunch!

At around 2.00 we made the short walk to Downing Street. Passing through another security checkpoint I found myself standing outside that famous door. Once inside we made our way up the spiral staircase, past the portraits of former prime ministers. During the next hour I had opportunity to meet with other educationalists and MPs from all over the country. When a hush went round the room I became aware that Ed Balls (Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families) was addressing the assembly. An inspiring presentation from him led to his introducing Gordon Brown. Mr Brown spoke warmly of his school days, and, thanked everyone present for their contributions to making a difference to young people's lives. Afterwards, Mr Brown mingled among us to shake hands and to thank us.

Before leaving number 10, I was thrilled to have had the opportunity to visit the cabinet room.

On reflection, I really enjoyed what was a fantastic day. Meeting others from across the UK, and, of course, the Prime Minister, made for a day I will never forget.

Another highlight of the day for me was the time I spent in the company of Nigel Griffiths. He was a wonderful host and font of knowledge about the various people we met and the buildings we visited. What really impressed me about Nigel, was that he never spoke ill of anyone. We met people from all the different parties and reminisced about many others. Not once did he adversely criticise anyone. For me that was as memorable as it was unexpected. Perhaps the media should focus less on the adversarial side of politics.

On returning to school it was great to be greeted by kids who were excited to hear that I had been to meet the Prime Minister. When one young lad remarked, 'It's great to know we attend a good school', it made me feel proud of what we have achieved at Liberton High. As those who know the school will know, we have made considerable progress in the past few years, but much remains to be done. In particular, we must continue to improve attainment across the school and make further inroads to ensuring that all of our leavers progress to positive destinations.

Thursday 4 March 2010

When things are getting too fast in the fast lane ...

A friend recently sent me this email which made me think about our priorities.

A professor stood before his philosophy class
and had some items in front of him.
When the class began, wordlessly,
he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar
and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.

He then asked the students, if the jar was full.
They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured
them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly.
The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.

He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar.
Of course, the sand filled up everything else.
He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous 'yes.'

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively
filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

'Now,' said the professor, as the laughter subsided,
'I want you to recognise that this jar represents your life.
The golf balls are the important things - family,
children, health, Friends, and Favorite passions –
Things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, Your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, house, and car.

The sand is everything else --The small stuff.

'If you put the sand into the jar first,' He continued,
'there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls.
The same goes for life.

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff,
You will never have room for the things that are important to you.


Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.
Play With your children.
Take time to get medical checkups.
Take your partner out to dinner.

There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal.

'Take care of the golf balls first --
The things that really matter.
Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.'

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented.

The professor smiled.
'I'm glad you asked'.

It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem,
there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.'


This week at Liberton High we aim to raise lots of money for a variety of worthy causes by participating in Readathon. Here is a link to a really inspiring clip (from Ocoee Middle School) of another school's efforts to make reading fun for pupils!

Thanks to our librarians Mrs Babbs and Mrs Brown for sharing their enthusiasm with the entire school community.

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Teachers from Malawai

It has been ages since I last blogged; it's too easy to get out of the routine!

Today we had the pleasure to welcome two colleagues from Malawi to our school. Both were on an exchange visit with colleagues at Gilmerton Primary School and chose to spend a morning with us at the high school. In the brief opportunity I had to chat with them, I was amazed at some of their life experiences. Imagine teaching classes with up to 400 pupils in the. The school they teach in has 1320 pupils and only 8 teachers. I wonder if they are 'meeting learners' needs'?

Friday 4 December 2009

The demise of common sense?

A friend sent this to me a few weeks ago. It made me laugh but also made me reflect on some of the changes in society, particularly schools, over the past 4o years.

Dearest colleagues,

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:
- Knowing when to come in out of the rain;
- Why the early bird gets the worm;
- Life isn't always fair;
- and maybe it was my fault.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).

His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children.

It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an aspirin to a student; but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

Common Sense took a beating when you couldn't defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault.

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realise that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death, by his parents, Truth and Trust, by his wife, Discretion, by his daughter, Responsibility, and by his son, Reason.

He is survived by his 4 stepbrothers;

(1) I Know My Rights
(2) I Want It Now
(3) It wisnae me
(4) I'm A Victim

Not many attended his funeral because so few realised he was gone. If you still remember him, pass this on, and join me in a minute’s silence whilst you enjoy a G&T on Friday at 7 pm. If not, join the majority and do nothing.

Friday 16 October 2009

When I was a lad ...

A friend recently sent to me an email with the following reflections on childhood. It reminded me of many aspects of my upbringing!

This is too scary- I thought was still young!
Someone asked the other day, 'What was your favourite fast food when you were growing up?' 'We didn't have fast food when I was growing up,' I informed him. 'All the food was slow.' 'C'mon, seriously. Where did you eat?' 'It was a place called 'at home,'' I explained. 'Mum cooked every day and when Dad got home from work, we sat down together at the dining room table, and if I didn't like what she put on my plate I was allowed to sit there until I did like it.' By this time, the kid was laughing so hard I was afraid he was going to suffer serious internal damage, so I didn't tell him the part about how I had to have permission to leave the table. But here are some other things I would have told him about my childhood if I figured his system could have handled it:

 My parents NEVER owned their own house or set foot on a golf course
 Travelled out of the country (Well my Dad went to Iceland and France - as a soldier in WW2) or had a credit card (- cos they didn't exist!)
 My parents never drove me to school. (We never had a car as neither ever learned to drive
 I had a bicycle (second-hand) that weighed probably 50 pounds, and only had one speed, (slow)
 We didn't have a television in our house until I was 9 - for the Coronation. It was, of course, black and white, and the station went off the air at about 10pm, after playing the national anthem and a poem about God. It came back on the air at about 5pm with Children's Hour and then the BBC News.
 There was no locally produced news as there were no local TV stations; in fact there was only the BBC - 1 channel!
 I never had a telephone in my room. We never had a telephone! I paid for telephone installation in my parents' home when I was about 32 so they could phone for the doctor when they were ill and I could contact them from abroad easily. That was about 1976! It had a dial that you had to turn for each number.
 Pizzas were not delivered to our home... But milk was - early every morning, in glass bottles. I never saw a pizza until I was about 36!
 All newspapers were delivered by boys. They had to get up at 6AM every morning.
 Movie stars kissed with their mouths shut. At least, they did in the movies.
 There were no movie ratings because all movies were responsibly produced for everyone to enjoy viewing, without profanity or violence or most anything offensive.
 Cinemas usually screened 2 films each sitting - a 'B' film (had minor actors and lasted about an hour) followed by 'Pathe Pictorial News'. There was then an interval of about 15 minutes when ladies would walk the aisles selling ice creams from a tray. The main 'A' film, featuring famous film stars, was them screened and lasted at least 90 minutes. If it was a 'full feature' film, there would be no B film and the interval/ice creams would come during the film itself. Throughout the showing, usherettes would walk the aisles and flash their torched to ensure there was no 'hankie-pankie'! One of our 2 cinemas has double seats in the back row!!
 If you grew up in a generation before there was fast food, you may want to share some of these memories with your children or grandchildren. Just don't blame me if they bust a gut laughing.

Thursday 15 October 2009

Swine flu vaccinations to begin

The H1N1 vaccination programme will begin in Scotland next week, said Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon. Ms Sturgeon revealed the majority of people will have the vaccine administered in a single dose.

But she said children under the age of ten and in the at risk group will require two doses of the vaccination. A total of 1.3 million people are in the priority groups for the first stage of the vaccination programme, which begins on 21 October.
(From BBC website)

Given that around 20% of the Scottish population is being identified as being 'priority', I am concerned that school staff are not being targeted. There is no surer way to bring the country to a standstill than to close a large number of schools. Schools will be forced to close if too many staff are ill.

Saturday 10 October 2009

Obama wins Nobel Peace prize

Much column space in the press this morning has been given over to challenging whether President Barack Obama is a worthy recipient of the highly prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. Many question why Morgan Tsvangirai, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe (survivor of several assassinations, arrests, beatings and tortures), was not given the award. In the absence of President Obama, I have no doubt that Tsvangorai would have been the winner. However, Obama is here and, to my mind, he is a worthy recipient.

Great leadership is not always about what an individual does; rather it is about the impact you have through your influence on others. Obama has been singularly successful in influencing policy and practice across the world since he took office. The most significant of these, in my view, is in regard to establishing global security on the issue of nuclear disarmament.

He has come out more forcibly than any other US president in his calls for a world free from nuclear weapons. In the months and years to come he must continue to win hearts and minds, especially in what his less than illustrious predecessor referred to as the 'war against terrorism'.

Friday 9 October 2009

Heating repaired!

I am delighted to report that our Heating system has now been restored and is fully operational. The school will be open for everyone on Monday 12 October. Thank you for your patience over the past three days and, once again, apologies to all who were inconvenienced by us having to close the school for pupils in S1 to S4.

Thursday 8 October 2009

Partial Schol Closure

Liberton High school will remain closed for pupils in S1-S4 on Friday 9 October. Senior students should attend as normal from 8.30 am. Apologies to all for any inconvenience caused by this.

As soon as the corroded section of underground pipe is replaced and 10,000 gallons of water is back in the network of pipes the heating will be back to normal. I have every confidence that the Engineers involved will do their best to get the main heating system operational as soon as possible.

DJ Macdonald (Headteacher)

Sunday 4 October 2009

University Applications

One of the greatest achievements Liberton High has had in the past few years is the 600% increase in university applications. In 2004 we had 8 university applications from Liberton High. In 2009 we have in excess of 50 university applications. We expect all of these to be successful.

By any reasoning this is a wonderful achievement. This shows what can be done when when parents, students and teachers all work together towards a common goal. I have every confidence and expectation that this number will continue to grow in the coming years.

Thursday 24 September 2009

Ask not what your country can do for you ..

I am grateful to Ms Arnold in RME for taking the lead in a project involving senior students working with the Institute for Philanthropy.

Over the next year the S5 classes will be working in partnership with the Institute for Philanthropy to investigate charities which are active in the local community. As part of this project each group will make a presentation on their chosen charity, the group which makes the best presentation will be given £3,000 to present to the charity that they have studied. This is a great opportunity which will help to develop skills in a wide range of areas and encourage young people to become more actively involved in their local communities.(J Arnold)

As a school we feel it is really important that our pupils have an opportunity to contribute to assisting others who may be less fortunate than themselves.

Tuesday 8 September 2009

Children see. Children do

I came across this short video clip on a blog by Ewan McIntosh. Ewan suggests that If you're a loud, stressed out, unhappy teacher then you'll generally have loud, stressed out and unhappy students in your class. Its a powerful and thought provoking clip that also highlights how much a child's attitudes and behaviours are influenced by their parents. Click here to view.

Thursday 27 August 2009

Magic moments

Now and again in schools we all experience a magic moment. Earlier today I had one of these. The story begins at Lunchtime yesterday when I had lunch with a couple of S1 pupils who started with us last week. Both assured me that they were enjoying High School and were settling in well. I was further pleased to learned that one of the boys, John, described Maths as his favourite subject. Seizing the opportunity I suggested to him that I would give him a maths problem to solve and, should he provide me with a written solution the following day, that i would buy him lunch. I further added that he was not allowed to use a calculator!

At lunch time today, who was waiting for me but John. John, beaming from ear to ear with a smile as wide as the Forth, proudly presented me with an envelop addressed to me, and (diplomatically) demanded that I read his solution. This I did and, to my astonishment, he provided me with the correct answer and a neatly written solution to my maths problem. At the end of his solution he had persuaded a parent to add that he had solved the problem without a calculator, precisely as I had requested. In my 28 years of teaching, I have never had a pupil who solved this particular problem. What is really interesting is that the solution he presented is not one I've seen before. I'm not sure what I'm going to do next, but I feel sufficiently inspired to set up some kind of Maths problem solving club to find out how many other gifted mathematicians we have in our ranks!

Getting it right for every child in Edinburgh

“Everyone has a responsibility to do the right thing for each child and we must all work towards a unified approach, with less bureaucracy and more freedom to get on and respond to children.
This will mean earlier help and the child getting the right help at the right time packaged for their particular needs.”

I attended an excellent multi-agency conference this afternoon at Murrayfield stadium in Edinburgh. Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) is Edinburgh’s multi-agency response to the Scottish Government’s programme to support every child. The main aim of the conference was to bring together the various support agencies for children with the intention of getting us all to work together in a more structured and coordinated way for the benefit of all our children. At the conference we had representation from:

 Schools - including nursery, primary, secondary special and independent
 Social work
 Police
 Voluntary sector
 Scottish Government and
 National Health Service

In my 28 years of teaching this was the first time that I had attended a conference on this scale (300 delegates) from such a wide range of public service providers. Keynote addresses were delivered by Gillian Tee (Director of Children and Families) and Boyd McAdam. Both delivered what I thought were brilliant and inspiring speeches. I left the conference feeling very positive about the future for working with and supporting young people in Edinburgh. As a Headteacher of a thriving secondary school I am absolutely committed to and excited about contributing to this exciting development.

Thursday 7 May 2009

Music for a Spring Evening

This evening I had the pleasure of attending an exhibition and musical performance at the Royal Scottish Academy on Princes Street. Along with colleagues, parents and pupils we had been invited by the Friends of the Royal Scottish Academy to join then on this special evening.

I was so proud of young musicians from Liberton High who had been invited along to entertain the guests. They played and sang magnificently!

Performing this evening were:

Ross Hunter (Clarinet)
Kellie Hunter (Saxophone)
Anne Traill (Cello)
Liam Allison (Guitar)
Mike Ainsley (Guitar)
Uni Kim (Flute and Piano)
Ian McBain (Voice)
Kirsty Evans (Voice)
Amy McVicar (voice)
Hannah Cowie (Voice)
Cecily Kingston (Piano)
Laura Klem (Flute)

Led by Scott McCorquodale, Principal Teacher of Music.

What really pleased me tonight was how well our pupils interacted with guests. They really were the most fantastic ambassadors for Liberton High School. Experiences like this will last a lifetime for these very talented youngsters.

Friday 3 April 2009

Dress Down Day for Charity

Today, we finished off the term with a dress down day for staff and pupils. Well done to everyone who contributed to raising a magnificent £411.24!! The money raised will go to the Children in Need fund.

The term was brought to a close by having teams of pupils competing in an interhouse Quiz. On this occasion Clyde House were victorious.

Well done and thanks to Mr Russell, S6 helpers and staff for organising and staging this event. I thought the atmosphere across the school was great - a perfect way to end the term!

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Early start for Liberton High

As many are now aware, following a decision taken by the Scottish Government, an additional in-service day will be arranged for all of Edinburgh's teachers on Wednesday 20 May.

In order to make sure that no teaching hours are lost, I am pleased to announce that, in session 2009/2010, all classes at Liberton High School will begin at 5.30 am.

Tuesday 31 March 2009

Visit from Rudi Oppenheimer

As part of our school's continuing 'Stand up to Hatred' education programme, we had the honour this morning of welcoming Rudi Oppenheimer to Liberton High School. Rudi, born in 1931 into a Jewish family, shared with us what life was like for a young boy in those troubled times. He gave a one hour presentation to 150 S2 pupils today followed by a question and answer session about his experiences, growing up as a child in nazi occupied Europe. His presentation was absolutely spellbinding and made a lasting impression on all of us who heard him today. This is all the more incredible when one realises that Rudi is 77 years old. I don't think I have ever come across such a fit and mentally alert person of such senior years!

A highlight of the presentation for me was when he passed around the yellow star that he had to have sewn onto his coat to indicate that he was a Jew.

I extend a warm and special vote of thanks to Sharon Kean, our PT of Social Subjects. Sharon has done a magnificent job in arranging a range of first class experiences for our pupils.

Click here if you would like to read the whole of Rudi's story.