Cream of the crop

13th July 2012 at 01:00
Douglas Blane talks to the Scottish winners at last week's TES School Awards

Award for Outstanding Sporting Initiative or Partnership

You start with a vision, then you go out and talk to people," says John Finlayson, headteacher at Portree Primary, which won this year's Award for Outstanding Sporting Initiative or Partnership.

"You can get help and funding if you work hard enough at it. You need to get folk on board who are committed to doing things. Talk's cheap. Then you keep communicating with them and make sure they've got the resources to do the job."

At the largest primary school on Skye, with a roll of 244, the vision is for pupils who are fit, keen to play sport and ready to learn.

"We see health and fitness as a priority. It has such a knock-on effect on everything they do," says Mr Finlayson. "Sport is important for social development. It gives young people a discipline and a way of thinking."

Turning the vision into reality, starting when he was appointed 12 years ago, meant enlisting the support of parents and the wider community at Portree. "When I first came, a lot of parents were guys I'd played shinty or football with. That helped when it came to twisting arms. Some of the parents we got at the start, whose kids have now left high school, are still coaching for us, because they enjoy it so much."

The volunteers from outside school have to be well supported, says Mr Finlayson. "If they want footballs or sports equipment they get it, without having to scrape around. We offer them coaching courses. We set up the Portree Junior Sports Club.

"Just because our kids are growing up on the Isle of Skye doesn't mean they should have fewer opportunities."

Finance for all this activity came from fundraising, grants and more gentle arm-twisting around the community - they raised pound;25,000 for a minibus that could take their children all over Scotland to compete. Half of that came from a local businessman, the rest through Awards for All and school fundraising.

This year the parent council has raised pound;20,000 to develop part of the playground - "and put PE equipment out there, to help keep our kids healthy".

With the help of the Active Schools coordinator, half a dozen volunteer sports coaches and the school minibus, Portree pupils have been competing as far afield as Glasgow and even Ireland. They have been particularly successful at shinty, becoming Scottish champions three times in the past decade.

"We are living in the real world, where there is competition," says Mr Finlayson. "But we aim to have everyone taking part."

A packed programme of extra-curricular activities runs six days a week until 7pm and later, offering shinty, football, basketball, badminton, swimming, running, orienteering and fitness programmes. There's something for everyone - dance classes, gardening, cheerleading, piping.

They get sports people in to motivate the kids. Karen Macleod, who ran the marathon at the Atlanta Olympics and was at school with Mr Finlayson, told the pupils about her experiences and did keep-fit sessions with them.

"Every kid got that opportunity. Some who aren't particularly sporty came to me at the end of the day and said `That was great!'"

Sport has played a prominent role in Mr Finlayson's own life. "I start work in the school at seven in the morning, three days a week. The other two I go swimming, so I don't start until 7.30. I've always played football, shinty, ran and swam. I play a bit of golf," he says.

"My son, who's a ship broker in Aberdeen, is into running, climbing and weights these days. So I don't arm-wrestle him any more. He used to say I never let him win and I didn't. Kids don't like tokenism. If you don't expect them to do well, they won't get the best out of themselves."

Two years ago Portree Primary won team of the year at the Highland Council awards.

"That sums it up for me," says Mr Finlayson. "You never get every team member playing the same way. You have individuals. But if you can create a team ethos that involves staff, pupils, parents and the local community, you can do just about anything."

Pupil perspective

Naomi Bell (P6):

"There is a lot of after-school and sport activities. I like cycling best. I'm not sure why. It's a bit easier than running. Twelve people from the school went to Raasay yesterday to do mountain biking.

"I've been at this school since nursery and I like all the sports here. We have people who come in and do lots of things with us. Mums and dads do the cycling proficiency and we had an athlete called Karen who was very interesting."

Connor Gilpin (P6):

"I knew our school was in for the TES Award, because it was in the newsletter.

"I play football and shinty. You need different skills for those. For shinty, you need to know how to hit the ball and how to protect yourself. There are wooden sticks flying all over the place. A man called Davie Pringle teaches us shinty skills. He's a fireman.

"We have six coaches for sports like football, shinty, basketball and running. I've been to Glasgow, Kingussie and Inverness in the minibus to play shinty in tournaments. It's good fun."


Some of us pass through school leaving barely a ripple. Others make big waves. Now at the start of his sixth year at Inverkeithing High in Fife, young Lewis Phillips is the driving force behind a lively community of pupils and teachers that has transformed the life of his school.

It started small, says the 16-year-old winner of the special award for contribution to technology in education.

"As I was going into first year, Fife bought a licence for all its schools, primary and secondary, from Radiowaves - an educational platform for publishing content safely online," he says.

"The school librarian put me on to it and we've been developing it ever since. We now have 300 reporters signed up, from first to sixth year - out of a total of 1,330 pupils."

Inverkeithing High School Media Network journalists can now be found, with a mic or camera in hand, interviewing participants at every event and getting the word out to the whole school and beyond.

"Parents like how they can find out everything that's going on," says school librarian Angela Macari, who has worked closely with the network for four years.

"We do have a school newsletter. But if parents go online they can get so much more - photos, videos and text. The spring concert, for instance, has proved very popular - especially the ukulele ensemble, which is getting lots of hits."

Part of the appeal of working with the Media Network, he believes, is the "exciting opportunities" it offers beyond the school.

"A lot of us went to Canary Wharf to report on the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) 50th anniversary. We've been to the Scottish Learning Festival. I did work experience with Radiowaves in Leeds, reporting on an Olympic event," says Lewis.

But there is also satisfaction to be gained closer to home. "People find the idea of reporting on school events more exciting than just sitting in the audience - especially the young ones who've done a bit in primary and realise, when they come here, that there's much more for them to report on."

All this activity has had a dynamic effect on the school and its presence in the local community, says Mrs Macari: "Our Rotary Club have got involved now and have asked to put their events on the site. It has really caught everybody's eye."

Inside the school, the media team's impact is not confined to online content and roving reporters, Lewis says. "We put highlights up on the digital signage in the dinner hall as well as in the newsletters and on social media, mainly Facebook and Twitter.

The responsibility for moderating all this content falls largely on the shoulders of just two "publishers" - Lewis himself and an S4 colleague, David Simpson.

"Pupils contribute stuff that waits to be approved by one of us, or sometimes by a teacher," says Lewis. "It is a lot of work. There's new content all the time, so I guess I spend a couple of hours a day on it. It varies."

Covering the school awards ceremony took all day, with seven cameras and two reporter teams going round doing interviews to cover the whole ceremony.

Somehow Lewis manages to fit all this into his life and studies - art and design and graphic communication at Advanced Higher, geography and product design at Higher. He describes himself as ambitious, determined and creative.

"I was thinking of doing architecture, but after all this media experience I'm now looking at advertising," he says.

Reassuringly, Lewis does not see online video and audio replacing the written word any time soon.

"We aim to produce articles with a mix of photos, video and text. I like giving people a step up, sharing what I've learned, so they can succeed too," he says.

"I've noticed that pupils who get involved at school tend to be successful. So what we do helps everybody, by showing them opportunities and encouraging them to get involved."

Recently awarded pound;4,000 from Fife Council, the Inverkeithing High School Media Network will become even more professional this year.

"We'll be buying school equipment - an iMac and lots of cameras. We'll refurbish a room in the library to serve as the media hub, where we'll run workshops, plan events, come back and edit it all, and then do the publishing," he says.

When he leaves school at the end of this session, Lewis is confident that the Media Network will survive and prosper.

"The plan is that David will take over my job. We've been doing presentations to the whole teaching staff, showing them how it works, how to upload content. It's not hard," he says.

"We've become quite well known to all sorts of teachers and education professionals. The local community is hearing much more about our school, while people inside it are more aware than ever of the opportunities and talent that we have here - and they are feeling proud about it."

- Radiowaves is a social learning environment that allows schools to deliver learning through blogs, video and podcasting.

- Inverkeithing High's ukulele ensemble performs its first ever piece to an audience of over 300.


"We use Macs with Final Cut Pro for video editing and Adobe Photoshop for design."

"I've tried lots of video cameras but I would recommend digital SLRs nowadays. In the past few years, these have gained high-quality video capability. I use a Canon 600D that cost pound;600."

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