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Neil Shaw

The new president of School Leaders Scotland talks about the most satisfying period in his career, the implementation of CfE and his own personal hobby horse: delegated schemes of management. Photograph by Ashley Coombes

The new president of School Leaders Scotland talks about the most satisfying period in his career, the implementation of CfE and his own personal hobby horse: delegated schemes of management. Photograph by Ashley Coombes

How did you come to be a teacher?

Almost by accident. I did a degree in civil engineering - it was something I had wanted to do for some time. But when I graduated in 1976, there was a bit of a downturn in the construction industry and I had the option of signing on as unemployed or going to Jordanhill to train as a maths teacher. So I went to Jordanhill, got my first job, but was still applying for civil engineering posts and was eventually offered one with Glasgow City Council. I decided then that I liked teaching and the rest, as they say, is history.

What attracted you to management?

I suppose a bit of ambition. It is probably a cliche, but while I love my job and couldn't be happier, probably the most satisfying period of my career was being a principal teacher. There came a point in time where I felt, "I'm very happy where I am, I am enjoying what I am doing - do I want to be doing this for another 20 years?" And that was the motivation to then apply for senior management.

What were your own school days like?

Deliriously happy. I made lots of good friends. My best friend and I started primary school with in 1958 and he is still my best friend. And he is a maths teacher. I came across some wonderful teachers, and some wonderfully eccentric teachers at Airdrie Academy. I was very keen on sports and played football, volleyball and cricket.

How do you think your pupils see you?

I really don't know. The demands of the job sadly restrict your opportunities to interact with young people quite as much as you would like. The older students know you a bit better as a human being, as opposed to the post. I came into the job to be a teacher, and I still call myself headteacher, rather than rector; that is important to me. The main purpose of this job is to keep an eye on learning and teaching.

Have you found it easy to implement Curriculum for Excellence in your school?

We have taken a fairly pragmatic approach to CfE. We haven't embarked wholesale on major curricular change. I am quite comfortable that my staff are up to speed with the changes in terms of teaching styles and methodology. CfE is not about timetabling structures, it is about learning and teaching. We are not proposing, for example, to go wholesale on change in terms of our options procedures. We are still looking to narrow the curriculum a bit after second year, and again after fourth year.

Have you been watching Educating Essex on Channel 4?

I stumbled upon five minutes once, and it wouldn't encourage me to watch it again. I didn't enjoy it. I suppose one of the reasons I try to avoid watching programmes like that is because I find myself genuinely putting myself in the shoes of the teachers and thinking, "How would I react in that situation?" I would never suggest that would be better or worse, but I find it frustrating, and it generally gets me annoyed. The only one I did watch was a drama series where Lenny Henry played a head trying to transform an inner-city school. It ended with one of the teachers threatening to commit suicide and jump off the roof of the school and Lenny Henry, as the hero-head, ran up five flights of stairs to stop him, promptly had a heart attack and died. And I thought, "Right, OK".

As the new SLS president, do you have a message?

My predecessor's theme for the year was "Leading into a Sustainable Future"; my theme for the year is going to be "Challenging Leaders". That will be about challenging leaders at all levels - the first and foremost being challenging leaders in our schools, but also challenging our local and national politicians and drivers in education to try and ensure the best possible outcomes in education, both in terms of commitment and funding, for the benefit of pupils.

Pensions are the big issue at the moment; would you be prepared to go on strike?

SLS on its own cannot go on strike, that is not in our constitution. We are the sister organisation of the ASCL (Association of School and College Leaders), the English leaders' group, and if any industrial action was taken it would be on the back of consultation with ASCL. I personally would be driven by any decision that SLS makes. I did go on strike in 1985, the last time there was a major dispute.

What would you like Michael Russell's priorities to be?

My own personal hobby horse is delegated schemes of management. The fact of the matter is that we have quite different delegated schemes operating in quite markedly different ways around the country. There are some examples of excellent practice, where headteachers are given significant latitude in how the school's budget is spent, but that can vary quite dramatically. So from my personal viewpoint, if I had one wish, it would be that that was seen as a major priority - to trust headteachers and enable them to use their budgets as efficiently and effectively as they think is right for the school and the situation in which the school finds itself.

Do you have a life motto?

As a former BB, "sure and steadfast".


Born: Airdrie, 1953

Education: Victoria Primary, Airdrie; Airdrie Academy; Glasgow University

Career: Maths teacher; headteacher of Boclair Academy in Bearsden, East Dunbartonshire; incoming president of School Leaders Scotland.

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