Being seen and heard is key to his leadership

3rd July 2009 at 01:00
Paul McLaughlin's pupils say he is more than deserving of the latest award of Headteacher of the Year

St Ninian's High in Bishopbriggs has won many accolades in the past - School of Ambition, Film Talent Award, International School of the Year. But according to its pupils, Paul McLaughlin is more than deserving of the latest award of Headteacher of the Year

The two pupils who nominated Paul McLaughlin of St Ninian's High in Bishopbriggs for the award of Headteacher of the Year, quoted no less a figure than Michelangelo: "The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it."

According to Hannah Terrance and Gary Archer: "If there was a headteacher who never let his pupils or teachers aim too low, it would be Paul McLaughlin of St Ninian's High School."

It is a ringing endorsement of the man who arrived at the school in 2004 in the midst of an asbestos crisis which necessitated decanting pupils out of their normal classrooms while emergency building work was done. "Mr McLaughlin kept the school together," says Hannah, one of the S6 prefects.

It was hardly the most auspicious beginning to his first headteacher post - having started as a maths teacher at St Stephen's High in Port Glasgow, he moved up the promotion ladder via St Ninian's High in Eastwood, Holyrood Secondary in Glasgow, and John Ogilvie High in Hamilton.

Nevertheless, he and St Ninian's have gone from strength to strength in the past five years. The school was one of the first 20 to be named a School of Ambition - in its case, not because it was a school with weaknesses which needed support, but because it was already successful and had the potential to reach even greater heights.

It used its focus on international education, much of it directed through an excellent modern languages department coupled with ICT, to make that step-change. Last year, the school won the title of International school of the Year at the Scottish Education Awards.

At the same ceremony, one of the school's English teachers, David Miller, was named Teacher of the Year - a success attributable to Mr McLaughlin's management style. "As well as giving pupils opportunities, he also gives teachers opportunities to shine," says Hannah.

Andrew Boyle, the school captain, adds: "Mr Miller always says that if you ever get an idea, this is the best school to have it in because you are allowed to run with it." His personal tribute is that Mr McLaughlin pushed him out of his comfort zone and made him realise there was more to education than gaining five As at Higher or seven 1s at Standard grade. Andrew took part in the Hunter Foundation leadership programme, while Hannah and classmates have been to Madagascar and Japan, experiences which she feels not only enhanced her culturally but brought the class much closer.

Andrew describes Mr McLaughlin as "a friend" - someone who will talk to the boys about football scores and who has enhanced pupil-teacher relationships. "He's a headteacher at the end of the day, but he's also someone we would go to and open up to."

The school's string of achievements is dizzyingly long - from being selected as a hub for a Confucius Classroom to winning a Languages and Film Talent Award, a Young Enterprise Award, another prize from the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, participation in World Challenge and national recognition for its debating and enterprise work. HMIE last year praised many departments' sector-leading practice.

"It is as if we were doing Curriculum for Excellence before it existed," says Mr McLaughlin. "Our overarching aim is engagement and motivation in the classroom. We've used formative assessment techniques, innovative learning and teaching practices, and active learning."

Building relationships with staff and pupils is critical to the school's success, he maintains: "You can't build these sitting in your office - you have to be seen to be out and about."

Paperwork and reports are part of the job, but he couldn't imagine being a head without having personal contact with the pupils - that, he says, is the bit that makes the job enjoyable.

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