Break with tradition for the Borders

21st May 2004 at 01:00
Female pioneer she may be, but Kathleen Angus is not interested in blazing a feminist trail. Raymond Ross talks to a new headteacher with a vision of shared responsibility.

When Kathleen Angus was appointed headteacher of Galashiels Academy last term, she was inundated with cards from friends and colleagues congratulating her on her personal success and on being the first woman secondary headteacher to be appointed in the Scottish Borders.

"I got an astonishing number of cards, to an extent I hadn't anticipated," says Mrs Angus. "It figured large in other people's minds more than in mine that I was the first woman head to be appointed.

"Only one person, a man, said to me, 'What will your answer be if you're asked if you only got the job because you're a woman?'

"I was quite shocked. No one else even hinted at such a thing. Most of the comments I've received have been of the nature of 'about time too'.

"There's a different set of people at Scottish Borders Council now. I'm not saying it wouldn't have come under the prior regime but with new people in, it was probably time for a change."

Mrs Angus discards the notion of being any kind of feminist heroine. "When I got the job I did think 'Right, now there are other good women here who can move on because the glass ceiling has been broken'. But that was the extent of my feminism on the matter. I didn't jump up and down shouting 'Victory for women!'."

Mrs Angus, a Dundonian who took an English degree at Edinburgh and did her teacher training in Oxford, has spent her entire career in the Borders apart from a short period Germany. She lives in Galashiels and both her sons attended the academy.

It is important to her in her new role that she knows and is known in the community.

For her the most important management strategies are to build teams and work with them, to listen without pre-judging and attend to detail. "A good ethos is built by small bricks like answering letters from parents, being on the end of the phone and not letting people down. These things are hard work but are more important than grand initiatives undertaken to attract publicity.

"Everything is underpinned by organisation, because everything depends on the headteacher being organised so that you are not simply reacting all the time," she says.

Although she has her own definite vision for the school, in her first term as head, she is meeting with each of the 80 members of staff individually to get their views on the strengths and weaknesses of the school and where they would like to see it going. The feedback she has received so far has been fed into the school development plan for next session, she says.

Words such as "community", "consultation" and "teamwork" come readily to her lips but she pooh-poohs the theory that female managers are more consultative and inclusive in their management style than male colleagues.

"What I bring to the job is about me, not about being a woman. It's difficult and dangerous to generalise on such matters.

"Take the recent example about boys and girls having different learning styles. I thought that was the wrong road to go down. It should really be about how all children learn."

While Mrs Angus plays down the cultural and political significance of her appointment, some secondary school senior management teams in the authority still have no women, and there are, as yet, no women principal teachers of physical education in the Borders. Of the five members of the senior management team at Galashiels Academy, three are women.

Although this is her first position without any teaching commitment (she was previously depute head at Earlston High, where she also taught English), she sees herself very much as a teacher still and likes to get out and about the school, interacting with pupils and staff. "I'm more interested in teaching than anything else and I'll head up the learning and teaching group in the school. In that sense I haven't moved from the chalkface.

"Responsibility is the key word with everyone: pupils, staff and parents taking responsibility for learning, for the ethos and the school environment," she says.

"I think that in general schools still have a lot of work to do here. It's often left to them, unfairly, to sort out society's problems. They cannot do this on their own. We all share responsibility for our schools and for what happens in them."

How does she see her relationship with the pupils developing?

"I want them to be able to trust me and to know that I have high expectations of and for them. Learning is the absolute focus and I want them to know that."

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