From Clockwork Orange to McCrone chat

10th July 2009 at 01:00
The latest in our series on teaching dynasties

The latest in our series on teaching dynasties explores the links between Ian Fraser, former corporate director of education and social care at Inverclyde, his wife Sandra, who has just retired as a primary teacher, and daughter Susan, who became a principal teacher of PE at the age of 26

Ian Fraser, who took early retirement this summer from Inverclyde Council after being suspended by the chief executive over a school placement controversy

I come from a family of crofters and blacksmiths near Fochabers in Moray. My mother had a great belief in education and she was the force behind me going into teaching. At that time, there were jobs everywhere. I chose to come to Renfrewshire because a friend, Jeff Jones, who is now a DJ on Moray Firth Radio, had come down and got a house in Linwood. I was offered three schools and chose Mossedge Primary in Linwood.

I'd had a very good teaching practice - I went to Aberdeen College of Education planning to teach history in secondary, but I really liked primary and switched.

Mossedge was a relatively new school because Linwood had been set up to serve the Chrysler car factory. The first Christmas I was there, I was amazed by the amount of tape-recorders the kids got from Santa - I aspired to get one at the time.

That first morning, five of us started as probationers. Because I was male, I was given P7, the logic being I could batter the boys into shape. There were three P7 classes - there just seemed to be children everywhere - and about 42 in my class.

When we were planning to get married, I left teaching and started working with the YMCA to earn more money. We gave them an outdoor education experience and operated from a centre in Paisley which had a snooker room, table tennis and drama - it was like a primary school but for older kids. These were the days of Clockwork Orange and Crombie coats.

In 1979, the year our son Alan was born, I became depute head of Neilston Primary - there were 120 in for the post. In 1982, the year Susan was born, I became head of Ferguslie Primary and by the time I had been there for eight years, I was still only 39. The plan had been to look for a bigger school, but then quality assurance beckoned.

Ferguslie had real social problems, although drugs didn't come in until later. The challenge was getting kids to want to be at school. We did well. About 29 senior members of staff in the west of Scotland came out of Ferguslie. The rest of the area was worn down but it was a modern school, bright and warm. It was ahead of its time. The only way to get kids to come in and learn was to motivate them and get them totally involved through activity methods.

A parent came in one day and said he was going into prison the next day. I was given Pounds 2,000 to help his kids. My wife didn't know, but I hid it under our carpet and from time to time I would pass some on, so his kids got the things they needed. Sandra always felt Susan and Alan were deprived because their toys and clothes were stripped off them before they were done with them, so we could pass them on.

I may have been an insubordinate young teacher, but I was a good insubordinate young teacher. I am proud of a lot of things, but especially what we did at Ferguslie. I didn't really enjoy quality assurance but I still have a lot of friends from these days.

In 1996, with local government reorganisation, I became head of service in East Renfrewshire, working for Eleanor Currie and then John Wilson. It was a super authority and we did really well. It's often seen as an exam factory - that's not true. They do well for all youngsters, across the board.

I moved to Inverclyde in 2006 to become corporate director of education and social care. They have bigger challenges than East Renfrewshire, but they overcome them very well. There is a high quality of staff in schools, and I learned a lot from senior managers in social work. The circumstances around my early retirement have been well publicised and I can't say any more on the subject. I hope to do some consultancy work over the next year.

Sandra Fraser, who retired at the end of June as a teacher at Woodland Primary in Linwood

I was in Mossedge Primary a year before Ian started there in 1971. We had heard there was a young man coming to join the staff, and one elderly woman, Mrs Lochhead, didn't fancy having a young man about. She said that if any of us went to the toilet when he was there, he would know where we were going, so he was banished to his own cupboard.

I was 19 - I had done a three-year diploma because a BEd would mean an extra year - and I had 39 kids in my P4 class. It was in a hut with no running water or toilet, just a hut.

Ian used to take the football team and my hut faced onto the pitch - so every Tuesday night, football night, I used to work late.

I took a break from teaching after I had Alan and Susan, but by Christmas of 1982 I had been asked back to do supply. My first permanent job after four years of supply was back at my first school, Mossedge, which is now called Woodland Primary after amalgamation in 1996. I was told I would be taking P1 - I'd never taught that age before but I found I really enjoyed it and since then I've taught that age a lot.

I've never sought promotion, I just like working with children. The further up the promotion ladder you go, the further away you get from them.

Ian and I don't discuss our careers a lot. He is way up there - my world is a lot smaller than his. When Ian began working very long hours, we spoke more often on the phone than face to face in a working week.

Susan Fraser, principal teacher of PE, ale of Leven Academy, West Dunbartonshire

From quite an early age, I wanted to be a primary teacher. I was really influenced by my mum. Most of my memories are when Dad was a headteacher and I would go into Ferguslie with him. I was always in my mum's school as well. I would go in on in-service days - I enjoyed being in her classroom. My brother would ask to go to Granny's instead.

I developed a big interest in sport, particularly swimming. Every weekend, Dad would take me to competitions all over Scotland.

The principal teacher of PE at my school, Gryffe High, was Lindsay Lang - he inspired and supported me. That was when I realised it was PE I wanted to do. I spent every waking hour I could in with the PE teachers, whether doing extra-curricular activities or just being there.

As I got older, the PE department in Gryffe gave me things to do - I took a first-year class for aerobics and they asked the headteacher to come and see me teaching.

I left home at 17 and went to Moray House in Edinburgh. When I phoned home the first week, I told my parents: "Everyone here's like me." It was unbelievable - I'd never been around so many people exactly the same.

I did my probationary year at Ardrossan Academy. It was my fifth choice of local authority. It was a challenging school. I was supposed to be going to a school in Stevenston and got swapped, but I was glad I went there. I was in a big department in a big school and I got a lot of experience and learned a lot. The other teachers were very supportive and very experienced. I went through a lot of situations and learned how to react to things - the techniques of teaching.

Then, just before the Easter holidays, I was playing in a teacher-pupil netball game when I snapped the cruciate ligament in my knee - it's the one that footballers break. I had to have an operation, where they take a piece of tendon to strap the knee together. I hired an automatic car and got myself to work - if I had stayed off, I wouldn't have passed my induction year. At the time, my knee was really painful, but I went in on sticks and crutches.

I've been at Vale of Leven for five years and I've just finished my first year as principal teacher. One of the teachers in my department is younger than me and the rest are older. Starting this year as PT, it was difficult from the point of view that they were looking to me for answers and expecting me to make decisions. But I'm getting used to that and from a support point of view, they are great. It's a very open department - I try to share a lot and look for their opinions. I respect the fact that many have more experience than me.

I don't know if I would aspire to Dad's kind of career - I don't know if I would go further than being a headteacher, but I would like to move up. I was a PT at 26 and I doubt if I would do this till I retire - there would come a point where I was ready for a new challenge.

I discuss education with Dad more than Mum does. I look to him for advice a lot. Even when I don't ask, he's very good at telling me things - but I'm really grateful for the fact I can phone either of my parents. Dad's perspective is right from the top, so maybe it isn't always the best perspective to get and it's not always what I want to hear, but I would always go to him first. My brother says: "Here comes the McCrone chat," and his eyes glaze over.

As told to Elizabeth Buie.

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