Good evening, Councillor Ross, Miss Alexander, ladies and gentlemen, staff and pupils of Musselburgh Grammar School. This year’s prizegiving is about one week later this year and the weather seems all the better for it – last year we were referring to the wet start to Wimbledon and the Glastonbury festival.
In preparing for this speech tonight, I found myself structuring it round 2 main themes – change and pride, and it is to the first of these I would like to turn.
It has been a year of marked changes for the school. We have had a number of staffing changes, changes to the promoted post structure, changes to the building, room changes for staff, changes to school uniform and homework diaries, and we have taken part in the Scottish Executive’s consultation on the Parental Involvement Bill, which is proposing changes to parental involvement in schools.
For this establishment, like other educational establishments, change would appear to be a constant and it is something we have to live with. Let me put forward to you the view that change is healthy, for it indicates that an organisation is not moribund and complacent, but recognises that there is still work to be done.
But change has to be managed if the institution does not whirl off into confusion, and I spent time in August last year outlining for school staff “The Way Ahead 2004-6.” Managing change includes allowing time for staff development, consulting with interested parties, allocating resources to effect the change, developing a timeline for action to be carried out, indicating which personnel will be involved and what responsibilities they have. The School Improvement Plan gathers up the priorities for the school and indicates how the changes will be managed. Difficulties do arise, however, when there is a multitude of initiatives from central and local government which compete for time with our own priorities at Musselburgh Grammar School.
Our priorities remain fixed on teaching and learning and on developing positive attitudes for adult life. They can be summed up very simply by the motto on the school crest - “Striving for Excellence- Caring for All” and the motto for the town – “Honesty”. Let us be clear that excellence does not only mean excellence in academic attainment – it also means excellence in other areas of achievement such as sports and cultural pursuits and creativity and enterprise and also in promoting positive attitudes and values. The second part of that motto “Caring for All” is a reminder that we have obligations to all pupils at the school – not all will collect the glittering prizes we see here tonight, not all will receive the congratulations of their peers. Many will need quite intensive support and specialist support for we are a very inclusive school, as is the authority.
I was at a retiral dinner last Wednesday for a Head Teacher John Mitchell with whom I worked 8 years ago and his words at that dinner struck a chord with me, for our schools are actually quite similar in their characteristics though not their size. He said “I am proud to have been the Head Teacher of a comprehensive comprehensive school.” – what he was alluding to was the fact that not all comprehensive schools are particularly comprehensive in their intake. This school, like his, has pupils from level A to level F in S1and from Intermediate 1 to Advanced Higher in S6 and I think we do a good job in dealing with them all - we are also a comprehensive comprehensive school.
Let me return to the theme of changes – staffing changes. When I do my monthly newsletter to parents, I find myself updating staffing almost every month, concerned that I am going to offend someone by omission. A number of staff arrive each year in August on a temporary contract as newly qualified teachers, then depart for pastures new in June: this year that group includes Mr Stanley in CDT, Miss Evans in Art and Design, Miss Gristwood in Home Economics, Mr Edgar in Chemistry and Miss Robert in Modern Languages. My thanks to you all for your work with us and our best wishes for the future.
Miss Leroux, however, remains with us following her successful interview for a vacancy in Modern Languages.
Mr Hewson leaves us from Physics in September and Miss Tyler leaves us from Modern Languages. Dr Burns leaves us from Biology on the return of Mrs Wilkinson. Miss Flanagan left during the year to be replaced by Mr Siday in Maths, Miss Lowe left to be replaced by Miss Walker in Art and Design – no relation to Mrs Walker who is PT. (We had this last year in CDT when Mr Shaw replaced Mr Shaw.)
Mrs Mackie, PT Chemistry, joined the Senior Management Team to replace Mr Robertson and Miss Balmer joined the school in November as our Business Manager.
There are also a number of staff joining us on a permanent basis in August – Miss Walker is joined in Art and Design by Mrs Main, Mr McLaughlin in Home Economics, Miss Moonie in Chemistry, Mr Downey in Physics, and Miss Anderson joins us in History following the departure of one of our longest-serving members of staff – Miss Margot Alexander - I will say more on this at a later point in the evening.
There were two sad losses to the school over the course of the year. In the autumn, one of our janitorial staff, Ronnie Colquhoun, was given the news that he had cancer and that the prognosis was pessimistic. Ronnie and his wife did in fact manage to come to the Christmas Concert and he did look quite well. Sadly, there was a deterioration after Easter and Ronnie passed away in late May. A more obliging and cheerful person you could not find in any walk of life and the stoicism with which he accepted the hand which Fate dealt him was quite extraordinary. The school is a sadder place without him.
Our other loss was the death of one of our fifth year pupils Laura Womersley after a short and unexpected illness. Losing an adult colleague is difficult, but losing a pupil is devastating and one of the hardest things I have had to do in my teaching career is to break the news to the senior pupils at a special assembly and watch normally composed faces crumple at the news. Her cremation was attended by many staff and pupils from the school and I was intensely proud of the mature way our pupils conducted themselves at such a difficult occasion. Her parents are with us this evening, having donated a prize to the school in her memory – you are welcome and we share your sadness. I would also like to welcome Mr and Mrs Givan, who lost their daughter Debbie last year and who have also donated a prize to the school in Debbie’s memory.
Three members of our teaching staff are going on secondment – which means we lose them for a period of time between 12 and 23 months, then they return to us. Ms Bovill is going to Edinburgh University, Mr McNaught to the Scottish Executive, and Mr McIntosh to the Centre for Information in Language Teaching, a post part-funded by the Scottish Executive. We thus say au revoir but not farewell.
I also wish to pay tribute to three colleagues in East Lothian. David Cameron, the Head of Education, moves to Stirling to take over as Director of Education and Children’s Services. David has been a strong supporter of the school in his time in East Lothian and I will miss his knowledge and wisdom as well as his sense of humour. Closer to home, the Musselburgh cluster of schools sees Gordon Hall, Head Teacher of Wallyford PS, retire and Jennifer Ross, Head Teacher of Stoneyhill PS move to Costorphine PS in Edinburgh. We wish all these colleagues well in their new circumstances.
I now move to changes in the building. As you will be aware from my newsletters and the local press, building work continued in all six secondary schools over the year. The builders virtually took over the school during the summer holidays. Since July last year, the Science Laboratories have been refurbished, the Home Economics department transformed, PE area changed to include a dance studio, Social Subjects and Modern Languages upgraded, Learning Support expanded, Music upgraded. A new admin wing has been added, the Dining Hall refurbished, new lockers offered to all S5 and S6, new pupil toilets opened and we have a new front foyer and a refurbished Assembly Hall. There is hardly any area of the school which is untouched, and visitors and parents have been complimentary about the changes that they see. However, I am anxious that the process of snagging – identifying and remedying problems – is taking so long. Charming though the builders are, I would like to have the work complete and signed off to allow us to concentrate once more on education, our primary purpose.
It would be remiss of me not to compliment the staff and pupils who have remained focussed on their work over the last year through several trying episodes and the sustained low level irritations of the building work. In this regard, I should say I have the highest regard for the teaching union representatives Mr Burns, Mrs Dreon-Goold and Mr Wishart who are all inclined to talk problems through with Mr MacKinnon and me to reach satisfactory solutions.
As I said last year, I am indebted to Mr MacKinnon for his labours with PPP – he is a calm and soothing presence to any discussion, logical when it comes to planning, and imaginative when difficulties arise. He and I also owe thanks to officers of the council like the Director of Education and Children’s Services Alan Blackie and the Chief Executive John Lindsay for their stalwart support over the last two years. We also would like to pay tribute to the support shown by our local councillors, particularly Councillors Ross, Talac and Murray, who have visited the school on several occasions and helped to move matters along. We now have a school fit for the 21st century thanks to their commitment to the project and I thank them for that.
We introduced changes to the school uniform and changed from old-fashioned school diaries to more modern pupil planners. While it would be unrealistic to expect 100% change overnight, the Senior Management Team are pleased that so many pupils now wear school uniform virtually every day they come to school. When speaking to pupils out of uniform, I remain amused by the number of claims that “it’s in the wash” and more interestingly “the washing machine has broken down” – if anyone is looking to set up a business, can I recommend washing machine repairs? - though I’m still waiting for the old chestnut usually used about homework “The dog ate it”. The school appreciates the level of support most parents have given us on this issue – it sets the correct tone from the start.
The new planners have been very well received by pupils and parents. Giving pupils a planner means that we can now expect all pupils to carry a bag to school, to record homework set by staff and generally be more organised.
Finally, in this section referring to the theme of change, we come to the Parental Consultation Bill, which proposed making amendments to School Boards and replacing them with Parents’ Forums as a way of drawing more parents into becoming more involved in their children’s education. The Scottish Civic Forum held a number of meetings around Scotland including one in Musselburgh, which was in fact one of the best attended. I am grateful to the School Board, particular our Chairman Roger Knox, for organising an open meeting to discuss the proposals and for making a response to East Lothian and to the Executive on behalf of Musselburgh Grammar’s parents. The deadline for responses was 7th June and we will find out the national tenor of responses in due course.
And so to the theme of pride. If pride is one of the seven deadly sins, then my colleague John Mitchell and I both stand accused – but this is one sin I will happily own up to, for I am intensely proud of the achievements – both individual and collective – of pupils and staff at Musselburgh Grammar School. I am also proud of the number of opportunities offered by the staff to broaden our pupils’ horizons – after-school clubs, visits out of school, competitions and the like. I wish to spend some time on these aspects of the school’s work in the second part of my speech.
Let me begin with examination results as a measure of achievement, since it is so often publicly discussed, often by a media with other agendas. I was enormously heartened when we received and then analysed the SQA examination results last year, for we continue to improve our level of attainment.
At Standard Grade, we have increased the number of pupils achieving 5 or more Credits in each of the last five years and now sit at 32% of the yeargroup, where we were at 21% 5 years ago. 4 pupils achieved 8 passes at grade 1 – Fiona Horne, Eve McDonald, Dean Mohammed and Rachel Sim – and we will look with interest at their results for Higher Grade this year in August. The absolute number of Credit passes has consistently grown year on year from 2000 – from 416 in 2000 to 739 last year.
Clearly, more and more pupils are choosing to work hard and realise the importance of good attendance and consistent application. Sadly, as a comprehensive school, we also have those whose attendance and application is lacking. The facts are plain: fall below 85% attendance and your chances of achieving a Credit pass fall to 1 in 13 as opposed to 1 in 3 for the school as a whole. Your chances of achieving 8 passes also reduce and this is unlikely to impress employers or colleges – you then start off your working life on the wrong foot.
At Higher level, the number of pupils achieving 3 or more Higher passes rose once more, this time to 20%, our highest level for at least 6 years. This benchmark is important, since it is the entry level to higher education. A number of pupils sat 5 Higher examinations and 12 achieved 5 passes. 1 pupil, Lynn Hryhorskyj, managed 5 Grade A passes.
At Advanced Higher, our pupils continue to challenge themselves and continue to do well – 16% achieving at least one Credit pass. We noted with great pleasure that Duncan McNicholl, our Dux from last year, gained a Grade A pass in each of his four Advanced Higher subjects.
Further down the school, we saw continuing progress in the number of pupils reaching level E in Reading and Writing and in Mathematics by the end of S2 –a tribute to the work of the English and Mathematics departments.
It is tempting to judge a school on the basis of its performance in national examinations – tempting, and wrong. School is about developing the whole child and remembering that the child will have to be prepared for adult life and work. Singapore recently admitted that its curriculum, heavy on rote learning of knowledge, was not serving it well in developing problem-solving skills and innovation, because its pupils were not being given the chance to develop those skills at an earlier stage of their education.
The Scottish Executive has set 5 national priorities in education – one of these is lifelong learning. I mentioned at the start that change is a constant and very few people can expect to be in one career all their lives. They will require to be adaptable, flexible, prepared to find new ways of doing things and prepared to expect to continue learning new skills and develop new knowledge areas. The danger is that we prepare pupils for life and for work for the last century, not for this.
Many of the achievements and events which I will shortly refer to make me proud because they illustrate people embracing learning in the broadest sense, using soft skills, trying out new things, being prepared to fail. Let me suggest that failure is paradoxically a good thing, because it asks you if there are alternative solutions to problems. In America, they expect their budding entrepreneurs to have failures and then to bounce back and learn from them: here, are we not often guilty of waiting for failure and then saying I told you so? Change in the form of restructuring is often common and superficially effective– change in the form of reculturing is harder. As a nation, we must learn to be more upbeat and optimistic – more half-full glasses rather than half-empty ones.
Let me begin by speaking about developments in the uses of Information Technology. Many of you will have been on the school website this year - there have been 160,000 hits on the website in 9 months - and I hope you have found it useful as a source of information. I am indebted to Mr McIntosh of the Modern Languages Department for the work he has done in establishing the site and encouraging others to use it. He tells me that most of the work for this is carried out by about a dozen S2 and S3 pupils, who deserve a great deal of credit for their hard work. The site has already been recognised for the John Dickie ICT Award from Learning and Teaching Scotland for using innovative technology, and has been shortlisted for the New Media Awards run by the “New Statesman” magazine. The Modern Languages Department are heavy users of this new technology and we were shortlisted as one of the best 12 language projects in the UK by the European Award for Languages –and were visited by the French Ambassador for Education earlier this year - and discovered this afternoon that we have in fact won – a major feather in our cap as a school and I offer my congratulations to the department.
We used the site to make a podcast – using Apple Ipods to download information not just music – and were the first school in Europe to do so. We received national press coverage in the Sunday Express and from BBC Newsround as a result. Because we use Apple technology for this, we are on the front page of the Apple World-Wide Website today – a tremendous achievement for a school to be featured in an internationally renowned website.
We have also developed the use of weblogs – blogs for short – which provided a highly entertaining source of information about the Paris Normandy trip in May and we did two podcasts from France. Mr McIntosh intends to run 3 or 4 podcasts tomorrow during Gig on the Grass so you can hear the music and hear pupil interviews during the day if you log on to the school website and click on the correct section.
The website also allows pupils to make posts about items of importance to them on the Pupil Council part of the site. We are also seeing departments starting to use the website for curricular purposes and some staff are even posting homework assignments on it.
Please do not underestimate the impact this site is having in spreading the good news about Musselburgh Grammar School – for example, several job applicants have recently referred to the website at their interviews and I hardly need to stress the importance of attracting high calibre applicants. The site is also generating some very interesting links with other schools – we have a Poland/ Scotland geography link and a school in America wrote plays about Auschwitz after reading about our visit there.
I look forward to seeing the website develop further over the next few years.
As a nation, we are often accused of being very insular and having little interest in the affairs of other countries or in their history. As a school, I beg to differ. As well as the Paris Normandy trip I referred to earlier, we have had a group of pupils visit the European Parliament in Brussels; had a group of pupils off on a Physics trip to France; and had a group of pupils visit Prague and Poland last year. The common denominator in all these trips was the excellent behaviour and attitude of all the pupils – they are a credit to themselves and to the school and are true ambassadors for us.
The visit to Poland was preceded by a lot of preparatory work by Ms Bovill as part of the theme of the power of the human spirit under persecution, as the pupils were to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. We were privileged to have a Holocaust survivor, Ernest Levy, come to visit those pupils and the visit was featured by an article in “The Guardian” newspaper. The pupils wrote a series of essays about their experiences which are very intense, very personal and very moving and we have arranged to have these published in a book – the galley proofs have been returned to East Lothian Council today. The book is dedicated to Laura Womersley, for she is one of the featured writers in this collection of reflective essays.
This raising of personal horizons to an awareness of the plight of other people surely reached its zenith in the response of the school to the Tsunami appeal at the start of 2005, where we raised over £3200 in a single day through various events – primarily school bands giving a concert in the Hall. Young people are often accused of being self-centred and selfish – hard to pin that label on our pupils when you consider that they also raised £550 for AIDS victims, £200 for the Mysthenia Gravis charity, £547 for Red Nose Day, and £462 for World Vision in Bangladesh thanks to Miss Moore’s Christmas pantomime. They hope tomorrow to raise £2000 for local children’s charities through ticket sales and merchandising for Gig on the Green – an ambitious but achievable target. I am proud to be associated with pupils who demonstrate such citizenship. There are also plans for us to make links with Ogwin School in Durban in South Africa, which I hope to explain more fully in next year’s newsletters.
I am particularly keen for the school and the community to recognise the value of out-of-school education including sport. (Mind you, I will regard Scotland as a truly educated country when all the males of the population start reading the paper from the front rather than the back.) I appointed Mr Brown to the post of PT Outdoor Education at this time last year – another one of these changes I began my speech with – and we have participated in inter-schools problem solving challenges for S3, S4 and S6 – most of which appear to involve getting very wet and very muddy. The S2 Orienteering Challenge in February against the other East Lothian schools led us to take the Challenge Trophy and two pupils, Jamie McNamara and Peter Dery, took first and second place respectively in the field of 70 competitors.
A group of pupils and staff also attended Midlothian Ski Centre from October to June and are making rapid progress in gaining certificates from level 4 to level 7, just below the level of Ski Leader. Another group of pupils and staff enjoyed a weekend away in Ardnamurchan recently examining rural life over 300 years ago. Mr Brown and a group of pupils also had the pleasure – if that is the right word – in talking to one of the Inspectors of Schools about outdoor education, and he was very impressed by the enthusiasm of the pupils and the range of activities on offer.
We also arranged for a group of S3 pupils to go on an outdoor education drawing trip out and about in April, which despite the atrocious weather, was voted a huge success by staff and pupils and is a trip we will arrange again for next year.
Out of school learning also includes our sporting achievements, both individual and collective. Craig Owenson now in S4 is currently captain of the east Lothian Falcons Rugby union team, and playing for the Scotland Rugby league team was man of the match against Wales. He will in fact be going to Russia in September to play in the Rugby League World Cup. John Hamilton, now in S3, gained a bronze medal at judo in the Scottish School Championships and then went one better gaining a silver medal at the British Schools Championships. Rachel Livingstone now in S5 continues to perform at representative level for Scottish Ladies Junior Golf.
Members of our Hockey Club have been selected as the East Lothian Hockey Squad, the girls S1/S2 team won the East Lothian Basketball Championship, fixtures were arranged against other schools for badminton, S1-6 boys participated in league fixtures against other schools and the girls’ S1/2 football team got to the semi-finals of the Coca Cola Cup and won at the East Lothian Youth Games in May. There are also athletics and rugby clubs running supported by parents and local sports associations, and girls’ programme of events run after school including pilates, yoga and tae kwon do. We also had a number of in-school visits by dance coach Donna Hartley as a way of broadening pupil interests into other sports, not just team games.
We came third in the County Sports held last week.
The under 16 football team reached the final of the Scottish Cup this year and lost 2-1 to Bellahoustoun Academy with the final played at Firhill, home of Partick Thistle. Those of us at the game enjoyed a good match played in a very sporting way and our pupils were very gracious in defeat – again a credit to the school.
The core of that team also won the Scottish section of the Sony Playstation 5-a-sides in Glasgow and represented Scotland at the national event in England. Mr Fruish tells me the team have clocked up 1500 miles of travel this year. We are of course grateful to our parents who offer support in all these events.
I was also very pleased to note the number of cultural events in Music, Drama and the Arts. (Someone once said that you can regarded yourself as a highly cultured person when you hear the first few bars of Rossini’s “William Tell” overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger…..) As ever in Music, we were represented at the authority’s Music Showcase organised by Peter Antonelli which took place in the Assembly Hall this year rather than the Brunton Hall. Mr Paterson offered us a Christmas Concert and then outdid himself last week in the Summer Concert where we heard some superb playing across a variety of demanding pieces – and I was very pleased to see a rise in the number of pupils involved in the orchestra and the choir.
We also saw an increase in the number of pupils involved in the Live Music Club co-ordinated by Mr Gallagher, and it is these pupils who come forward to play at our various charity concerts such as Gig On the Grass. Two of these bands in fact were playing at last Friday’s Brunton Theatre’s Annual Ball. Our rehearsal facilities are in use 5 days a week and we will have a recording studio at our disposal next year. We are also looking to run DJ courses and to certificate pupils on their technical skills.
Mr McNaught has arranged visits to local theatres over the course of the year and is arranging to take a group of pupils to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Our S1 pupils participated in drama workshops led by East Lothian drama workers based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde.” A group of S1-S3 pupils, writing in French, won a prize for the funniest play in the National Play competition at the French Institute. Miss Moore is busy rehearsing with a group of pupils who will be performing at the Brunton Theatre on Sunday evening. This is part of the BBC One Day of Shakespeare where 400 invited schools in 100 locations across Britain will perform a 30 minute version of a different Shakespeare play. We are performing the Scottish play – thespians will know it is unlucky to mention the actual name of the play. Given our PPP saga, Henrik Ibsen’s “The Master Builder” would have been more appropriate … Ms Bovill and a group of Advanced Higher English pupils will shortly be involved in the Scottish Class Act Project at the Traverse Theatre involving actors and writers to produce their own plays –leading to a public performance in November at the Traverse.
We had a textile artist-in-residence working with various yeargroups in the spring and an exhibition of that work has just opened at the Brunton Theatre, and a number of pupils attended workshops run by John Bellany and Elizabeth Blackadder.
There were a host of visits out of school – to the Scottish Parliament, to Prestongrange Industrial Museum, to the Science Centre – many as part of our Activities Days. Pupils entered various competitions – we always participate in the United Kingdom Mathematical Challenge and our pupils received 2 Gold, 20 Silver and 33 Bronze awards. Gold means a performance within the top 6% of the country. Deborah Cain achieved a silver award in the Scottish Mathematical Council Maths Challenge and we took part in the Enterprising Mathematics Team Competition for Lothian secondary schools.
It is my intention to draw these experiences and others into a booklet for the forthcoming mailshot entitled “More than Chalk and Talk”.
It is time for me to draw my speech to a close. As Head Teacher, I can draw upon the experience and enthusiasm of all the staff in the school, both teaching and non-teaching. I can also draw upon the support of a community, not just our parents, which values the education on offer to its children.
At the end of my second year in post, I am enormously encouraged by the way the school is progressing and developing – it is an exciting time to be Head Teacher of Musselburgh Grammar School and I feel very privileged to be here. I hope you enjoy the remainder of the evening’s ceremony and I wish everyone an enjoyable holiday.
Ronnie Summers 29th June 2005