A caring head who aims high for pupils

16th July 2010 at 01:00
The headteacher of the year gets the best out of everyone at her Glasgow primary. And she expects no less from herself, pioneering new initiatives and training in psychodynamic counselling

Scotland's headteacher of the Year is a very modest person. Anne McFadden, head of St Mirin's Primary in Glasgow, believes she's just "doing her job" and attributes her success to the support of her staff.

Others, including the judges of the Scottish Education Awards, know that she is, in their words, "highly exceptional".

The words "caring" and "nurturing" come up whenever Mrs McFadden and her school are described. But in her own quiet way, she makes sure her high expectations - for herself, her staff and her pupils - are met.

Maureen McKenna, Glasgow's head of education, says: "St Mirin's is an incredibly happy school, but also high-performing. The children there get opportunities to achieve." She is unstinting in her praise of the headteacher who has worked at the school for more than 20 years, the past eight as its head.

Mrs McKenna picks out for praise her vision of a "fully-rounded education". Of her leadership style, she says: "She's quite demanding in what she expects from everyone, but she's not one of those `stand up and shout and bawl' people."

St Mirin's was the only Scottish school shortlisted for "outstanding primary" in the UK-wide TES Schools Awards, announced shortly before the Scottish Education Awards. When it came to the headteacher of the year category in the Scottish awards, Mrs McFadden came second to none.

When HMIE gave St Mirin's the best report of any Glasgow school under the new inspection regime last year, it picked out Mrs McFadden's "outstanding leadership", adding that her supportive and sensitive approach was valued by the whole community.

Mrs McFadden's depute, Pauline Devine, who nominated her for the Scottish Education Awards, says her motto has always been "for the good of the pupils".

She adds: "Anne has ensured that the quality of education our pupils receive is of the highest standard. She is a hard worker who expects and gets hard work from everyone around her."

One of the great loves of Anne McFadden's life is reading, and she ensures that literacy permeates all areas of learning at St Mirin's. Initiatives include author visits, a new library run by parents and pupils, a book club, a discussion group for more able readers, literacy studies for classes, active literacy opportunities across the curriculum, support for the development of talking and listening skills, and a new approach to teaching writing.

Miss Devine says: "After much research, Anne decided we should adopt a new way of teaching writing, based on a number of tried and tested methodologies - a daunting task for most people. However, that was not how we felt about it."

The Big Writing programme is built around an interactive approach and uses formative assessment techniques such as "traffic lights" and punctuation fans, and peer and self-assessment.

"The staff had every confidence in Anne's judgment; they were also keen to demonstrate that her confidence in them was well-founded," says Miss Devine.

Mrs McFadden says her staff know "I'm not the kind of person who will jump on a bandwagon that is passing by". But she also says that she gets the best out of people: "By being in the school for so long, I know people's strengths and can encourage them to develop them."

HMIE highlighted the work of both the teachers and the support staff, and Mrs McFadden is most emphatic about what the support staff's role should be: "supporting pupils, not tidying or sharpening pencils".

One pupil support assistant, Margaret Whyte, worked for the deaf community for 20 years, so she teaches the pupils sign language at "golden time" and does a series of lessons on disabilities with P4-5; another, Mary McDermott, uses her nursing background in tending to children's hurts. Eileen O'Brien came into the job because her son has dyslexia and she wanted to help others, and Anne Monaghan uses her artistic skills to do art masterclasses with the P7s.

When it comes to continuing professional development, Mrs McFadden leads by example. Her additional qualifications include a postgraduate diploma in educational computing, the Scottish Qualification for Headship, and a diploma in psychodynamic counselling.

She is not afraid to pilot new initiatives. Along with neighbouring Croftfoot Primary, St Mirin's developed the lessons that accompany the Sense over Sectarianism initiative five years ago. This year, the school has introduced masterclasses for P6-7 in a variety of different activities, from orienteering to knitting, with the aim of identifying and developing new strengths and skills in pupils.

Mrs McFadden was also the driving force behind the Seasons for Growth programme for children who have suffered a loss, bereavement or separation. It is perhaps this kind of initiative which marks her quiet, but constant, care for her pupils and her acknowledgment of the many difficulties that some suffer outside school.

"I want this to be a place where children feel safe and loved," she says simply.

She recalls when she herself was a secondary pupil and had to take time off school because her mother was in hospital. "Instead of giving me a row, one teacher brought me in a cookery book."

It is that kind of caring approach that epitomises for her the role of a teacher.

elizabeth.buie@tes.co.uk.

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