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