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.