Isabelle Boyd

4th May 2012 at 01:00
The president of the Catholic Headteachers' Association of Scotland talks about perceptions of faith, the McCormac review and Elvis. Interview by Emma Seith Photography by Tom Finnie

Catholic school populations are becoming more diverse. Is that true of your own school?

Each year we have in excess of 40 pupils who come from non-denominational primaries. There is a perception among the local parents that the Catholic school offers an obvious values-based education. Our school is what the kids call "a blazer school", and in a community people equate that with being a good school. But sometimes it's the children who decide. It's definitely been the case in the past that the kingpin or the queen bee at the primary has been coming here and their pals have followed.

How do you maintain a Catholic ethos in schools where many pupils come from a different faith or no faith?

Catholic education is not exclusive, it is inclusive by nature. It is based on the Gospel values of respect, tolerance, love, faith, hope, charity. Almost 60 per cent of our school population live in the bottom three deciles in terms of the Scottish index of deprivation. But out of the 24 North Lanarkshire secondaries, we are always in the bottom four when it comes to days lost through exclusions and in terms of attendance we are always in the top five.

The title of the Catholic Headteachers' Association of Scotland conference is `as others see us'. How do you think others see you?

That depends on the person. It seems to me a minority in Scotland think the existence of Catholic schools is the cause of sectarianism and bigotry. Nothing could be further from the truth. Catholic education is not about indoctrination and exclusivity; it's about tolerance and respect for yourself and others.

Are Catholic schools too defensive?

The charge of being defensive is one I recognise, but I think it's less the case now. There is a greater sense of confidence in Catholic education. We have become better at articulating what it is about and that is thanks to the Scottish Catholic Education Service. This is our Faith (the new syllabus for Catholic religious education) is proof of that confidence. Two papal visits have also given us confidence.

You have called for school budgets to be delivered over three years and greater freedom to move money around. Why?

Under Schools of Ambition, with additional funding every year for three years, we were able to plan better. If we could apply that to devolved school management, schools would be more efficient. At the moment there is no reward for good housekeeping. Similarly, if you have money in your staffing budget, it seems to me you should be able to use that to free up a member of staff to do something they are interested in or take forward something in the improvement plan. And maybe that person would get a one- year additional responsibility payment; what's wrong with that? There seemed to be worry and concern once the (McCormac) report was published that this was about the headteacher issuing some kind of largesse. I don't know of any headteacher in the business doing that.

As the only headteacher on the McCormac review, did you feel your voice was heard?

Now you have met me, what do you think?

Fair point. How did you feel when some branded the recommendations an `attack' on teachers?

I said to Gerry McCormac from the beginning: "People are only going to read the end of this report". But if you read it from beginning to end, then it's clear that the McCormac report is one that very much values and supports teachers in Scotland.

How do you feel about Michael Russell shutting down the suggestion that experts should be allowed in classrooms without a teacher's supervision?

I'm not precious about any part of the report. But the intention was never that experts could be teachers on the cheap. We were saying for the first time, if an individual was coming in to support the programme a teacher had created and, if in that teacher's professional judgement they felt this individual was able to deliver, the teacher could step out.

Do you have many chartered teachers in your school?

At one point we had 12, but now we have eight at various stages.

Was the scheme of any value?

It's very important to separate the scheme from the individuals who participated in it. The scheme was flawed at the outset. If it had been a CPD programme then it would have been something to encourage everyone to do, but if you are then attaching increases in salary it must eventually become unsustainable. At one point my school was paying in excess of pound;50,000 in additional salary payments.

What makes a good teacher?

Someone with an open heart, open mind and huge stamina.

Tell me about Elvis. When did the love affair begin?

My sister Margaret was an Elvis fan and my sister Rena liked Cliff, so it was always Elvis vs Cliff and I'm afraid I joined Margaret.

What appealed?

Have a look. (Mrs Boyd gestures to the Elvis clock hanging on the wall of her office.) Did you know he was only fat for about four months and apart from that he was fantastic?


Born: Glasgow, 1957

Education: St James' Primary, Coatbridge; St Patrick's High, Coatbridge; University of Strathclyde (economics and politics); Notre Dame College of Education, Glasgow

Career: Modern studies teacher, John Bosco Secondary, Glasgow; principal teacher modern studies, St Andrew's Secondary, Glasgow; seconded to Dumbarton as parents officer; depute head, Taylor High, New Stevenson; headteacher, Cardinal Newman High, Bellshill since December 2002.

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