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It's good to keep in touch with grassroots

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. I remember first thinking this as a depute not long in my post. We'd had a reception for local business people and, at the end of the evening, there I was along with my headteacher, sleeves rolled up, washing the cups and saucers.

When I was younger, this was the job of the young unpromoted staff, who knew their place in those days. The headie would sail in and out.

There's not much chance of sailing in and out nowadays.

I've spent a large chunk of my life in teaching as a principal teacher of guidance with responsibility for personal and social education, so I've spent many an evening working into the wee hours writing PSE lessons, and here I was again this week writing PSE materials late at night.

However, I do believe that headteachers need to keep their feet planted deep in terra firma and there is nothing more effective than doing a pile of marking or writing lesson materials to do just that and to remind us of the daily grind of classroom teachers. No matter how tired or ill you are feeling, the pupils are not going to go away tomorrow.

My waiting horde comprised 200 first years gathered in the assembly hall for one hour. I had to keep them amused and (more importantly) quiet for the period while their form tutors met with the head of year to go over the tutor group materials.

What was I going to do? They had had their induction and their tutors and sixth-year buddies had done a great job in settling them in. I delved deep into my PSE memories and came up with an old favourite: when in need, do a review. Find out how things are and how they might be improved.

I designed a review sheet to find out how they were settling in from their viewpoint. They had to place themselves on a ladder according to how they were feeling and think of three things which would take them a step higher.

This graphic immediately highlights the children who are needing more support and we can now target this.

Their comments were very interesting, ranging from "Fantastic, couldn't be better" and "Great, I'm enjoying secondary school" to the usual worries about getting lost or missing the bus. Two wrote that they are being bullied and their head of year is now dealing with that.

To the question "What could make things even better for you?" they replied:

"More football" (extra lunchtime games on its way); "Make the corridors wider" (I wish!); "More healthy choices in the dining room" (primary colleagues, you have done a tremendous job on the healthy eating front) and "Put chocolate on sale in the dining room" (some more work to be done though!).

They are mostly enjoying their food: there were lots of "Yummy" replies to that question.

I specifically asked them about the toilets, since I have a constant concern about unsupervised loos and bullying in secondary schools. The girls wrote: "Busy, some girls are putting on make-up" (can't have that!); "Really clean and they smell nice." Quite a number of boys wrote "Smelly".

In my view that goes with the territory and I think is related to the sheer numbers visiting the toilets at break times. (Why aren't gents' loos simply cubicles like ladies' loos? Architects, please ditch the smelly urinals.) There was no sign of bullying or teasing from this question, but I did find out that some of the doors don't have locks (our jannie is now on to resolving that).

The first years are finding their teachers very helpful. I passed on the positive comments to the appropriate people and took steps to fix what I could. Their head of year will now pass the review sheets to the form tutors and, with the sixth year buddies, they will follow up with extra support and keep an eye on the children who are not yet settled.

Overall, I was quite chuffed with my little foray into PSE writing again; I found out a great deal about our first years and, most importantly, they were quiet and engaged for an hour.

Linda Kirkwood is headteacher of Oban Highemail

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