Happy returns of the emigres

Pat Sweeney

Amid the meagre response to our advertisement for maths teachers were two transatlantic applications. Canadians Kim Jack and Doug Ferguson, quite independently of each other, pitched bids to work in the land of their fathers, motivated by their Scottish antecedents. Both are now fully integrated members of the Holy Rood team, making a generous contribution to the life of the school.

Doug is an unusual Canadian, in that he was born and attended primary school in Barrhead. His parents, a civil engineer and a physiotherapist, joined the Seventies brain drain. They, like Doug, now hesitate when asked their nationality but they have imparted to their family an affinity with Scotland which prompted Doug to complete his pre-service training at Jordanhill. Qualified in both mathematics and biology, he relinquished a post in a Catholic high school in Ontario to teach in Scotland.

This product of a diverse and individualised school system is intrigued by our obsession with national examination results. Standardised certification of pupils' achievements is a novel concept to the Canadian system, in which teachers compose and mark their own tests at every level. "How can schools operate without national comparison deciles and scatter charts?" I enquired in disbelief.

Doug regards his colleagues at Holy Rood as highly motivated and dedicated professionals. He is impressed by the level of support from principal teachers, the quality of the guidance team's involvement and by the range of opportunities for supported study and extra-curricular clubs.

Kim's arrival has been a windfall for Holy Rood and for Lismore Rugby Club, though she does not remotely resemble the stereotypical women's rugby player. She has a determined look in her eye, which signals that she is no push-over either in the scrum or in the classroom.

She reckons that many Canadian teachers would find Scotland an attractive destination. Salaries are on a par with Canadian pay scales and she considers that teachers are better treated here.

Kim enthuses about Edinburgh, the friendliness of the people and, like Doug, the unstinting support of colleagues.

Unsurprisingly, she finds our network of qualifications arcane and impenetrable. "It was probably OK at one time," she says with unconscious perspicacity, "but it has probably been tweaked and adjusted so often that nobody understands it any more." She is unaware that we need national task groups to produce such trenchant conclusions.

She finds it difficult to adjust to some of the differences in vocabulary. Her form class erupted in laughter when, in her enthusiasm to promote school uniform, she advised them that they should all be wearing black pants.

Doug's reminiscences will include the passenger who eyed him curiously on an Edinburgh bus. Eventually, he summoned the courage to ask Doug: "Were you ever at high school in Toronto?" This is just the kind of encounter that might occur between Scots in Canada, says Doug, enjoying the coincidence.

Other schools, too, have their transatlantic treasures. During a recent pilgrimage to St Modan's High in Stirling, rector Frank Lennon, a ministerially approved role model for all secondary headteachers, introduced me to Brittany Clement, a fourth year pupil from Concord High School in New Hampshire.

Brittany particularly appreciates school uniform because it removes the pressure to compete in fashion trends and, as she puts it, "nobody is discriminated against because of what they wear". She is amazed to discover six teaching blocks in the day, whereas in her American school each class lasts for at least 90 minutes. She assured me that Scottish teachers demand more respect from pupils than their New Hampshire counterparts, who commonly invite the pupils to address them by their surname alone, "Hey, Smith, could you help me with this?" She suspects that in St Modan's, "Hey, Lennon..." may not elicit an equally genial response.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher at Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh

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Pat Sweeney

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