Praise our diligent seconds in command

25th April 2003 at 01:00
When a depute headteacher is excellent, he or she is certainly an unsung hero. What is it exactly that they do all day? A little bit of absolutely everything has to be the answer.

A few Fridays ago, Alison McLean began deputising for me while I was attending the Edinburgh headteachers' conference. The first task of the morning was to find out where to redirect three classes while workmen were involved in replacing Queensferry Primary's heating system, replacing windows and reroofing a section of the school.

Why, you might ask, do we allow three projects to go on at once? Well, it will be wonderful when it is over and not everyone can have a slot in the holidays. Besides, we might never get the chance again should someone else's project go over budget.

The whole school timetable has had to be rearranged to keep all the pupils away from the danger of items falling from the roof or windows crashing to the ground, so playtime was changed to bring everyone to the early stages area in two groups.

New routes inside school have had to be planned to use different toilets and keep children away from ladders, tools and the possibility of dripping hot tar.

We do now have a business manger, who is wonderful at helping with all of this, but not on Friday mornings. (I know how lucky we are to have a business manager. It really does make a difference, and very quickly too, if you have made a good appointment.) So keep going Alison, you are doing a wonderful job.

Just when she was sure that all had been thought about, news came that one of the entrances to the annex building across the playground was to be put out of use until the state of masonry work was checked. This was the entrance for the community playgroup, community creche and our under-threes group, Twinkles. So, Alison was up and off across the playground to resolve this problem, which was not easy while trying to placate families who were in a rush. By now it was 9.30am.

I had a quiet smile recently when I heard a Government announcement that another huge injection of funds to improve schools was on the way.

Naturally we are all delighted about this but we are acutely aware of the day-by-day effect it can have on the working of the establishments during such improvements. Our experiences are tiny compared with schools having large public-private partnership projects going on around them.

In the midst of all our reorganisation, which involved discussions in the corridor with representatives from all affected parties, a knock came at the fire exit door and an elderly lady was shown into the annex. She was 93 and had attended Queensferry Primary as a child. She had come out to us from Edinburgh by bus and was keen to have a look around the school and see how things had changed.

This was no time to say "Sorry, I'm much too busy", and so the pace of the day slowed a little as Alison and our visitor took a walk back through time.

They looked at rooms which had been heated by coal fires and coped with 45-plus pupils, their coats draped around the walls. On wet days this meant dampness in the air. Our visitor missed the tribute to the fallen in war which used to hang in the gym hall and was reassured that it was safe. She recalled the separate playgrounds for the boys and for the girls. The old brass school bell is still there and used daily as part of our traditions.

We only have assembly every second week, so Alison had not been in a rush for that, but our non-teaching depute head was wanting to go off to teach as part of the team of three teachers to help with P3 early numeracy work.

At 10.30am she joined colleagues for a coffee break and wondered what other surprises might lie ahead for her.

Sheilah Jackson is headteacher of Queensferry Primary in Edinburgh

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