The cuddlier side of an embattled director

It was not all negativism and gloom in the Western Isles last week, despite well-publicised travails over the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway.

HMI reports were before councillors on two other schools, Sgoil Lionacleit on Benbecula and Laxdale primary in Lewis. Angus Graham, the council's vice-convener, paid glowing tribute to the "outstanding report" on the southern isles secondary and hoped the education chairman and director would visit the place to compliment them.

Later, just to show his teacher-friendly nay cuddly side, director Neil Galbraith went out of his way to extol HMI's findings on Laxdale as "the finest report on a school I've ever seen". There was only one point of action to which the school had to address itself - improving its programme for written English. This glowing commendation will be a comfort to one young teacher in particular, who also happens to go by the name of Galbraith.

The result of this discussion, of course, only served to contrast the performance of these two schools with the dim view being taken of the Nicolson. Not that we would ever suggest that democratically elected local authorities could be guilty of any jiggery-pokery over the agenda (it has been noted, however, that the Lionacleit report was published back in May).

The Nicolson row inevitably dominated the agenda. But there was one item which, in light of the little local difficulty over the school's rector, excited Jotter at least. This was director Galbraith's response to the Scottish Office proposals for a new qualification for headteachers.

He revealed his firm belief that serving heads should be covered by this move. "Indeed local authorities may take the view that training of existing headteachers presents better value for money than the training of aspiring headteachers." Who could he have in mind? The training should allow for heads of different sized schools "to develop skills which would ease the transition from a small school to a larger one". Does the education department have any transfers in mind?

But Western Isles heads can rest easy. The director does not approve of making acquisition of a headship qualification compulsory. Phew!

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