Easy to be sunny while Hay shines

8th July 2011 at 01:00
Relentlessly upbeat Headteacher of the Year gives pupils a taste of the real world. Henry Hepburn reports

Walk into Alexandra Parade Primary and you are as likely to see headteacher Linsey Hay down on her knees scrubbing the floor as sitting at her desk clearing out her email.

If pupils and colleagues see the head throwing herself into every aspect of school life, she reasons, they are a lot more likely to do it themselves.

Her school in Glasgow's East End had remarkable success at this year's Scottish Education Awards: it entered three categories and won all three, including Headteacher of the Year.

Pupil support assistant Karen Craig said it was because of Miss Hay, who arrived as principal teacher in 2004 and became head in November 2009, that the school's 360 pupils "love coming to school".

"She always has a smile on her face," remarked one pupil. "She's always optimistic and encouraging," said another, of the 36-year-old head who is originally from Aberdeen.

But Miss Hay does far more than jolly people into action: she has rallied the school with several imaginative projects.

Community Day was introduced last September. Once a month, every pupil goes out of school for a taste of real life. They might visit elderly people in a nursing home or the nearby offices of IT giant Dell to strip down and rebuild computers. Dell has a close bond with the school, and each week around half of 27 volunteers from the company work with pupils who might be struggling with reading or want help with technology.

Pupils only take part in Community Day if they are on the school's "roll of honour", which is dependent upon good behaviour and attendance rates. This, said Miss Craig, had encouraged children to "take pride in themselves and everything they do"; this year 49 children had 100 per cent attendance rates, double the usual numbers.

Judges noted that Miss Hay went out of her way to support parents: "No matter when you come in, someone will always deal with your concern."

There are about 60 children from ethnic minorities, and some 25 languages spoken in the school; their parents are invited in to celebrate their own culture's festivals.

A "culture of inclusion" played a big part in the school winning the Aiming High Award, but so did the ambition encouraged in pupils. An art project run through the PEEK scheme (Possibilities East End Kids) has helped P7s gain a qualification equivalent to Standard grade General or Intermediate 1.

"The pupil voice was extremely strong," noted judges, never more so than when free fruit in Glasgow schools was withdrawn last year.

"The pupils asked me `Why are we getting a tuck shop and the healthy fruit is being taken away?'" Miss Hay recalled. "I didn't have an answer." As a result, the school started buying in fruit twice a week from its own coffers - a big factor in winning the Health and Well-being Award.

Pupils are also taking charge of complex activities that would usually be left to adults. The Hit Squad is a group of senior pupils trained by staff to combat bullying; the Energy Busters monitor responsible use of energy.

While Miss Hay stresses that Alexandra Parade was successful long before she became headteacher, judges underlined that her drive to improve opportunities for all pupils had "shone like a beacon".

Where is the cheese?

One of Miss Hay's most significant acts - highlighted to judges by colleague Karen Craig - was to give staff copies of Who Moved My Cheese?, a motivational book or "business fable" by Spencer Johnson.

It shows four typical reactions to change in one's work and life, through a tale of two mice, "Sniff" and "Scurry", and two tiny people as they hunt for cheese.

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