Saturday, 22 December 2007

Christmas activities

I would love to hear from other schools, particularly in other countries, what you do to mark the end of the Christmas term. As you will have seen in my learning log, at Liberton High School, our main events were:

  • An evening Carol Concert for parents, staff and pupils
  • Ceilidh Dancing for pupils
  • Dress down day (on last day) to raise money for charity
  • Staff/Pupil Panto on last day
What did you do this last week?

Please email me at:

Friday, 21 December 2007

Panto season

Today was the last day of term. This is my third Christmas at Liberton and my most enjoyable to date. In truth, I really enjoyed today. I felt relaxed and confident that none of the exuberance that can mar last days of term would spoil our last day. Staff and pupils were very relaxed; exactly how you would want everyone to be as we head into the Christmas break.

The staff/S6 panto was superb and a fitting way to end our term. It was great to see S6 and staff working together in this way for the benefit of the younger pupils. As for my own contribution to the panto, I was delighted to be able to contribute but would like to reassure all my colleagues and pupils that I am very unlikely to ever address an assembly again in a Scooby Doo outfit!

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Christmas cheer

The school has been a very busy place over the past wee while. Staff have been very busy towards preparing pupils for the prelims that start soon after the Xmas/New year holiday. In addition, we have also found the time (and energy!) to run various social events for pupils and parents.

On Monday night we had our Carol Concert - very well supported by parents. A first for us on this night was the appearance of our fledgling drama group. Their thought provoking sketch worked really well for me as it made me reflect on what Christmas should really be concerned with.

Throughout the past few days we have had various 'seasonal' activities in classroooms - all contributing to our pupils' educational experiences. Ceilidh dancing for pupils in PE was very well received - great to see so many youngsters being so enthusiastic about this aspect of our culture.

We will round the term off tomorrow with our staff/S6 pantomime. You would not believe how excited the pupils are at seeing staff take to the stage in outfits and costumes that have not seen the light of day for twelve months.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007


Earlier this afternoon I had the pleasure of being present when some of our pupils handed over a cheque for £134 to Streetwork, a local group based in our part of our Edinburgh who do fantastic work with some of the more vulnerable and less privileged people in our city. I was really proud of the pupils who performed at the concert and also those who donated their money.

The money was raised by running a lunchtime concert (organised by Jan Ingram with support from our local newspaper the 'Echo') featuring the winners of our school's 'X factor' competition. The 'Echo' will carry the story in the January edition. Well done and thanks to all the youngsters who contributed to a very worthwhile cause.

Building leadership capacity

Our school's senior leadership team took themselves off from the school campus this morning and left two PTs to run the school. Thanks to Graham Crawford and Shona Thomson (both currently studying towards the Scottish Qualification for Headship) for acting up as HT and DHT and for running the show in our absence.

Our morning away was highly successful as it gave us quality time as a team to reflect on our progress as a school, to discuss and amend our remits and plan 'next steps' in preparation for the return visit of HMIe in February. During a typical day in school there are just too many distractions and interruptions to really concentrate on a particular task. Amazingly, the school was still standing when we returned!

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Declining school rolls and staffing

One of the challenges facing us presently as a school is how best to manage our staffing, for the benefit of all our pupils, in the context of a declining school population across the city. The summers announcements surrounding the proposed school closure programme, which ultimately collapsed in shambles, has certainly not helped.

I find it very challenging to make staffing plans for the next few years. Getting the staffing balance right is key to keeping staff morale high, maintaining our current momentum and breathing new life into fledgling initiatives that will make all the difference to developing our school further in the short, medium and long term. Staffing levels, of course, are directly related to the number of pupils on the school roll. Having a strong, thriving school is key to there being a strong community; a community to which old and young genuinely want to be part of and contribute to. It is well established that the key determinant for house prices is the quality of their local schools. There is deep irony for me in the fact that many of the schools most affected by the (aborted) plans from this summer serve areas of the city that have rising numbers of children, rather than falling, as is the case generally across Edinburgh.

In recent weeks, feedback from our 'prospective parents' has been very encouraging. The indications are that parents who were, as recently as last year, considering sending their kids to other schools in the city are now very much persuaded that Liberton High is the place to be. I am sure that our fantastic 5-14 results over the past two years, among other successes, has been key.

I would like to close this post by posing a question:

Is the parents' charter a hindrance or a help in helping Edinburgh further support its schools on their journeys to excellence for the benefit of
all of our young people?

Thursday, 6 December 2007


As the HMI publication ‘Leadership for Learning’ states, the most effective establishments initiate networks and partnerships that bring significant benefits to learners. How as heads do we go about developing and sustaining the networks and partnerships (sometimes referred to as connectedness) that open up further opportunities for our schools and ourselves to grow?

I daresay that we can answer this in different ways but for me the answer must include the cultivation of a variety of networking opportunities. Visits to other schools, attendance at conferences and CPD sessions are three opportunities that spring to mind that are great for networking and sharing ideas and practices with others. A fourth opportunity I have recently found particularly useful was as the Edinburgh Secondary Heads' representative on a Working Group charged with developing guidelines for the Council on the use (or not!) of mobile phones and other digital devices in the Council's schools. I really enjoyed learning about the processes involved in policy formation at Council level but also valued the opportunity to meet and work closely with colleagues from different sectors of the council. As one of my school's 'leading learners' I have learned a lot over the past few months about myself and developed very useful personal contacts that I will want to draw on in the future.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Secondary Heads meeting

I attended the monthly meeting for Edinburgh's 23 Secondary headteachers this morning at Craigroyston Community High School. It was business as usual for the most part with the exception being an opportunity for us to bid farewell to Sandy McAuley (HT at Leith). Sandy has taken early retirement. As part of his presentation to us, Sandy talked fondly about his days as a teacher at Liberton High in the days when Henry Phillip was the Headteacher. Sandy mentioned that many colleagues through the years have helped shape his practice and none more so than Henry Phillip. He drew particular attention to the emphasis that Mr Phillip placed on nurturing and developing staff. A lesson there for all of us as to what is really important in a school. We can too easily get lost in improvement plans and bureaucracy in general when the job should really be about relationships and people. Sandy's contribution to Edinburgh's schools will be missed and not easily replaced. Leith is one of three secondary schools in Edinburgh that will soon be advertising for a new head.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Cluster work

Today started off with a Headteachers' meeting with Headteacher colleagues from our cluster. Our cluster of schools includes our four associated primary schools (Craigour Park, Gilmerton, Liberton and Prestonfield) and their linked nursery schools.

A highlight of the meeting for me was a proposal, tabled by David Russell, to set up an information evening on Internet Safety for all parents in our local schools. It is intended to work with other agencies, including police, to take this forward in early 2008. This proposal was warmly received by all present, and, as far as I know will be a first in an Edinburgh schools.

The impetus for this initiative came from a visit by Dave Russell to Musselburgh Grammar School earlier this term to attend an internet safety for parents evening. Ollie Bray (Acting DHT), a former colleague of ours from our Knox days, was responsible for the arrangements and inviting us along.

Monday, 3 December 2007

S4 work experience

Our S4 pupils returned to school today after a taster week of 'work experience'. Pleasingly, many of those I spoke with talked positively about how much they had learned in their week in the 'real world'. It was reassuring to hear them talk about how employers expected them to dress appropriately, to arrive at work on time and to be polite and respectful of customers. Some pupils talked about being invited back, during the holidays, to gain further experience, with a possibility of being offered employment in the future. I am confident that all our pupils will have gained enormously from last week and will now return to their studies, rejuvenated, motivated and focussed on their goals for this session.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

St Andrew's day celebrations

Last night I took my family to a celebration of our patron saint's day at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. What a fantastic evening. Alex Salmond's inspiring welcome address set the scene for a series of performances representing the diversity that is Scotland in 2007. We had music, readings and poetry from a variety of the cultures in today's Scotland. They included:

  • Chinese
  • Jewish
  • Asian
  • Polish and
  • Ghanaian
The highlight of the evening for me was the rendition of He' mo Leannan (a beautiful gaelic love song) sung by the Tollcross Primary Gaelic choir. Their Gaelic was first class - evidence of the fantastic progress made in recent years in the teaching of Gaelic in our capital city.

By the end of the evening we all left with a deeper understanding and appreciation of Scotland's influence on the world through the centuries and, how other cultures have contributed to making us the richly talented and diversified country Scotland is today. On a personal note, I left feeling proud to be Scottish and part of a country that continues to go from strength to strength.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Heartstart Training

I attended the second part of a training course this afternoon and gained Instructor status with Heartstart. Heartstart is an initiative coordinated by the British Heart Foundation to teach members of the public what to do in a life threatening emergency: simple skills that can save lives. At Liberton High we intend to train all of our S5 students before Christmas and then to extend the programme throughout the entire school in 2008. Research carried out in other countries has shown that a significant number of lives can be saved, following a heart attack, by teaching members of the public the basics of first aid. Pupils will be trained to become 'teachers' in this initiative.

I am grateful to Rachel Meighan (PT Guidance) for generating interest in this initiative and agreeing to coordinate the development of the programme. Thanks also to Bryan Finlay (Heartstart), a former pupil of mine from my Beeslack days, for all his support in bringing this programme to life. Bryan, apologies for any lasting damage I did with the Van de Graaf as your Physics teacher - think of it as an early introduction to defibrillation!

Visit to Royal High School

This morning I had the pleasure of visiting The Royal High School and meeting with George Smuga, the rector. As many will know, the RHS was recently inspected by HMIe and earned a terrific report. I was particularly interested in learning about their progress over the past few years in their practices on Self-Evaluation. I left the Royal High buzzing with ideas and enthusiasm about how we can further improve what we do at Liberton High. Not only did I learn a lot about the Royal High School this morning, I also learned a lot about my own school. I wish I could remember the name of the English poet who wrote about visiting France to learn about England.

I was really impressed by George describing pupils' experiences at his school as a journey with excellence rather than a journey to excellence!

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Former pupil

Meeting former pupils is often really satisfying. None more so than today when I walked in to the staffroom at lunchtime to be greeted by a 'girl' I taught 15 years ago at Portobello High School. Catriona is in Liberton High this week as part of a Health Education Team delivering a programme on sexual health to our S3. It was great to chat to Catriona about her ambitions to become a film director and find out about how successful she has been in her studies.
As part of this team of young adults delivering health education to S1, we also had four of our S4 girls:

  • Chloe Logan
  • Gemma Maclellan
  • Elise Littlejohn
  • Kimberly Lambe
who elected to do this as their work experience placement. I was really impressed and so proud of their mature and sensible approach. I look forward to finding how S1 pupils react to being taught about 'life' by youngsters who are just a few years older.

Parent Council

Last night's parent council was really positive, as usual. I very much appreciate the support this dedicated group comprised of parents, staff, pupils and 'friends of the school' gives me in taking our school forward. The main item on the agenda was a report from me on the school's examination results for session 06/07. I was really pleased to be able to demonstrate that we have made progress again across all the categories that are generally reported on. I drew particular attention to our 5-14 results which indicate stunning progress in the past two years. I also made the point that we, as a school, must now continue this progress into S3 and beyond.

A particular challenge for us in the short term will be to increase staying on rates in the senior school. I simply will not accept that the interests of so many our pupils are better served by leaving school at the end of S4. (Currently around 60% of our S4 cohort choose to leave school at the end of S5). Research work indicates that good qualifications is the key factor in maximising life opportunities. Interestingly, of the 41 students in S6, I fully expect 38 of them to be successful in their university applications this session.

It is my expectation of all pupils at Liberton High School that they remain with us for 6 years and aspire to gaining university qualifications.

Monday, 26 November 2007


An old head One of the most rewarding parts of my job is the discussions I have with some of our more experienced staff. Today whilst on walkabout I stopped in Art for a while to chat to Dave Ramsay. Dave is one of these people who always sees the best in others and simplifies potentially complex situations. Anyone who has attended a PTs' meeting and listened carefully to one of Dave's many contributions will know what I mean. Today's topic of conversation was classroom management and why it is that some staff can effortlessly manage discipline in their classes whilst others struggle a bit at times. Dave has been around long enough to acknowledge that none of us gets it right all of the time. Can classroom management be taught? Can classroom management be learned? By the end of our conversation we had concurred that the answers to these questions were 'No' and 'Yes' respectively. It is my personal view that, as with Leadership, classroom management can be learned but not taught. They may be two sides of the same coin.

Also in the Art department I had a brief chat with Mr Scott whose pupils were engrossed in creating pictures involving a collage of football strips. Why didn't my teachers use this approach to engage us all these years ago?

In French, I came across Mrs McKerrecher's 1DA who were actively involved in developing posters covering aspects of citizenship. I have rarely come across a class as enthusiastic and motivated. The pupils were so keen to show off their efforts.

Homeless in Computing In computing I came across Ms Didcock's (English Department) classes using the internet to research a project on homelessness. One student asked if I knew that there were 23,000 homeles people in Edinburgh. I admitted ignorance on the true number and suggested that I would return soon to confirm the actual number.

Cooking is great fun at Liberton High Next on my tour I popped into Home Economics where I came across a S5/6 class actively engaged in preparing cuisine from a variety of countries. I was hugely impressed by the classroom organisation and the rapport between staff and students. I have promised not to mention the name of which student was suggesting using a food processor to shred his chicken pieces!

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Malbet Park

Dr Karen Traill (Chair of our Parent Council) and I met with local councillors and residents from our neighbouring Malbet Park Estate on Friday. Concerns had been raised by residents about the nuisance caused by noise and litter by some members of the community at various times of the day. At the meeting I made the point that complaints about litter and noise from school pupils has been raised in each of the schools (Urban,rural, state and private) that I had previously worked at. As part of its 'Responsible Citizens' programme Liberton High School is committed to ensuring that all of our pupils are made aware of their responsibilities towards others whether it is in transit betweeen school and home or during weekends or evenings. Ideas suggested to tackle concerns raised include:

  • Pupils joining the Neighbourhood Watch scheme
  • Litter pickups as part of our developing eco-education programme
  • Further restricting access to the estate at certain times of the day
  • Assemblies to publicise expectations of pupils

It is intended to consult further with neighbours, parents and pupils before decisions are made on which particular strategies to implement.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Thursday 22 November

The day started off with a meeting with secondary HT colleagues from our neighbourhood. The meetings are very useful as we share good practice and learn from each other. I am of the view that the issues to address are the same across all schools. From school to school, depending on the context, the issues may vary in terms of the resources required to address these. We spent some time talking about the tensions that can arise between inclusion and exclusion. I am keenly aware that some youngsters find it very difficult to cope in a mainstream school and can benefit from receiving a different type of support in another environment.

This evening sees us host an information sharing session for parents on 'Sexual Health'. Many thanks to Rachel Meighan (PT Guidance), Niki Powers (Health Opportunities Team) and Caroline Fraser (Health Opportunities Team) for all their hard work in making the arrangements for the evening.

The parents who attended were very impressed with what they learned about our programme. In particular, parents liked the emphasis on relationships and abstinence as key messages underpinning the programme we deliver to our youngsters. It was reassuring to learn that the likelihood of unwanted pregnancy is much reduced when parents actively discuss relationships etc with their children. Most of the parents present indicated that they would be willing to follow up the evening's work with further work with youngsters at home.

Monday, 19 November 2007

A typical day as HT at Liberton High

A great day at school today.

Tutor Time I made a point this morning of maintaining a high profile for 30 minutes around the school entrance to really challenge any pupils who arrived late. I expect the numbers who were late today (30 - this number has crept up in the past two weeks) to reduce as my high profile each morning begins to make an impact.
Period 1 A meeting with Maths colleagues to talk about how we would continue to raise expectations among pupils. I feel raising expectations will be key if we are to continue to raise attainment.
Period 2 At our SLT meeting we had the very pleasant challenge of looking at several applications to run excursions for a range of year groups. We are very fortunate at Liberton High to have so many staff who are willing to take the initiative in organising and following through a range of trips.
Period 3 I met with a representation of senior students who were very disappointed that their proposed Disco has been postponed. I explained to them why I had reached this decision and what other opportunities there may be for running such events in the future.
Period 4 I spent a bit of time dealing with any urgent correspondence and meeting with a few boys (mainly S4) who are drawing unnecessary attention to themselves in and around the school.

Periods 5 and 6 We interviewed some excellent candidates for a Chemistry position that has been vacant since we resumed in August.

3.30 - 4.00 I spent a bit of time discussing the day's progress with pupils who are on behaviour books and met with House Heads to check on progress during the day. I got down to the assembly hall for a few minutes and saw around 30 of our girls preparing a dance show in the assembly hall.

4.00 - 6.00 Spent a bit of time dealing with the day's correspondence and meeting with any colleagues who dropped in to my office.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Rosy Fraser retiral

Thank you to everyone who attended 'Rosy's do' on Friday night or sent best wishes. Rosy Fraser has been at Liberton High for the past 31 years and thoroughly deserved what was a magnificent send-off. Many thanks to Jenny Coburn (appointed to replace Rosy as Pt) for all her hard work in organising such a great evening. This picture is of Rosy with former pupil Alan Wells (1980 Olympic 100 m champion) at our opening ceremony for the new games hall last year.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Study Skills

For the past two days we have been working with a company called 'Live-N- Learn' to develop study skills among our S3 and S4 pupils. We identified this need when we spoke with pupils whilst preparing for exams last session. The feedback from the pupils has been first class.

Senior school assembly

I took a senior school assembly today on 'Going for Gold' The title was apt given the announcement about the 2014 Commonwealth Games from Glasgow last Friday. I firmly believe that many of our talented pupils will be representing their country in Glasgow in 2014. I am really pleased to see that around 40 of our S6 pupils are currently in the process of applying for University courses. This compares favourably with the number 19 who applied in 2005. With the support of all our parents I am confident that more and more of our pupils will be applying for university courses in the future. We must all work together in building up our pupils' confidence and levels of expectation if we are to achieve gold.

Gilmerton Primary School

Dave Russell (DHT), Ross Meaney(S6), Jodie Cockburn (S6), 4 S1 pupils (Alex Keddie, Sorcha McLaughlin, Shannon Kamal and Catriona Carter) and I attended the parents' evening at Gilmerton Primary School tonight. What a fantastic school! There is a really positive and caring attitude that permeates the entire school. I thought the displays of pupils' work around the school were outstanding. I would recommend to everyone to go and have a look at the 'Africa Display' in the dining room - I have not seen any better at any school I have visited. It was great to meet some of our prospective pupils and parents.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007


I am the Headteacher of Liberton High School - a medium sized, busy and thriving comprehensive school in Edinburgh. This is my blog and I would welcome comments/reaction from anyone out there who has a few moments to spare.

Donald j Macdonald