Oh Danny boy, 'tis you must go

1st June 2007 at 01:00
Alex Woodis Headteacher at Wester Hailes Education Centre in Edinburgh

After working there since it opened in 1978, Danny Costello, senior depute at Wester Hailes Education Centre, retires at the end of June. He'll curse me for this, but my excuse is that it's a tribute to a generation of teachers.

Danny was a PE teacher who brought intellectual rigour to a subject which had too long been treated as an educational also-ran. As a principal teacher of PE in a superb new department, a member of national PE working groups and an articulate spokesperson for PE (Danny didn't just play for Scotland, he talked for Scotland), Danny and a small band of his contemporaries brought PE firmly into the world of aims, objectives, assessment and evaluation. He was one of a vital group, including Fraser Henderson, who raised its level in Scottish schools to previously undreamt of heights.

Walk the school with Danny, however, and his real strength becomes apparent: knowledgeable, friendly, relaxed but committed to genuine and high-quality relationships. The students know him by name, but without a shred of disrespect in that seeming familiarity. Danny knows every student.

(He usually also knows at least one of their parents and a few siblings.) Danny can be the toughest disciplinarian but for every youngster from whom he tears a strip, there is a youngster whom he has already befriended and with whom, tomorrow, he will again be on warm terms.

Teaching for Danny is a commitment to comprehensive, community schooling, to every youngster (and every adult) who walks through the Wester Hailes doors. Danny was the son of a miner who worked his way into a civil service job but died in his fifties while Danny was at secondary school. Teaching is a service, a duty and a privilege, and Danny has been putting back over a lifetime far more than ever he took out of the world of education. He despises league tables and the arithmetic of educational management.

As an assistant head and depute headteacher, Danny has covered a range of roles, most recently the curriculum. He has championed radical curricular change when he saw that as being in the interests of Wester Hailes students. He has been hugely influential in changing the age-and-stage model for SQA presentations and in introducing new, vocational courses.

Through-out his years in management, Danny has impacted powerfully on the school by his commitment to the staff and through the relationships he creates with them.

Perhaps the greatest tribute I can pay to Danny Costello is that there is not a cynical bone in his body. He is working today with the same enthusiasm and optimism as when he started.

To all those teachers about to retire, take heart. Ours is a great job in which we reap what we sow. For so many of you, as for Danny, the final compliment is not that our schools will be poorer in August without you, but that they will be enormously richer because of your decades of unstinting and generous service.

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