The pursuit of excellence

30th June 2006 at 01:00
Neil Munro uncovers the leadership secrets of the Glasgow headteacher lauded by the inspectorate, Bruce Malone

One thing is immediately apparent in discussion with Bruce Malone, the "excellent" head of St Andrew's Secondary in Glasgow's east end - he is a leader energised by excellence.

Whether it is having good exam results in all the schools where he has worked or sharing his achievements with others, he is clearly enthused by success.

"I'm a great believer that it's important to have a track record of success as well as experience," Mr Malone says. "Your credibility is often judged, and quite rightly so, by what you did in the classroom or in middle management or whatever."

His series of jobs exemplifies his attitude. The first, in 1973 teaching history and modern studies at St Margaret Mary's Secondary in Glasgow's Castlemilk, saw his department, run by "the great Mrs Anna Keegan", get "outstanding results".

When he moved three years later to St Gerard's Secondary in Govan as head of modern studies, Mr Malone led "a brilliant department built up by a very talented team" who achieved "amazing results".

At St Ninian's High in Eastwood in 1984, he was appointed assistant head as part of "a vibrant team" and ran the modern studies department which got "incredible SQA successes".

His career continued ever upwards in 1989 when he became depute head at Trinity High in Renfrew, which he describes as another phenomenal school.

He worked "for change and more success" with James Dourish, his former Latin teacher.

Mr Malone even pays tribute to Trinity's janitor, Jimmy McPhail - "an immense character and the only janitor I've ever heard of who was singled out in an HMIE report" (regrettably, he says, HMIE neglected to praise his current "sensational" janitorial team led by George Ross).

Finally, Mr Malone arrived at St Andrew's in Carntyne in 1991 as headteacher, to face one of the most challenging jobs in the city. It had just absorbed St Gregory's Secondary from across "the great divide" of the Edinburgh Road (the absorption of St Leonard's Secondary in Easterhouse was to follow eight years later).

There had been a tradition of rivalry and gang territorialism involving the two schools, and Mr Malone's first task was to quell some serious fighting between rival youths. Again, and characteristically, he pays tribute to the support he had from parents, youngsters and the police.

Equally typically, he shies away from taking all the credit for establishing a school which HMIE rated as having five excellent features, 12 very good aspects and two good elements.

In particular, he credits Brother John Ogilvy, one of the first heads, for creating the "traditional values" Mr Malone so prizes - full uniform, strict discipline, high expectations. "Please give credit to Brother John,"

he pleads. The former head still visits the school, even in his 90s, and his influence permeates it, says Mr Malone.

Presiding over what is arguably one of Scotland's most successful secondary schools - it regularly outperforms comparator schools in national examinations - Mr Malone is once again at pains to praise his "fantastic staff", especially his "outstanding" senior depute Ken McCrossan ("please mention him") and Bruce Lorimer, the chair of his school board, whom he describes as "second to none."

Great teamwork and leadership also extend to the whole senior management team, middle management, the classroom, pupils and parents, he adds.

HMIE found similarly, singling out the deputes for praise, along with the business manager who provided "an exceptionally good analytical service which enabled pupils' performance to be tracked in detail". The "strong Roman Catholic ethos (which) permeated all aspects of the school" is also felt to be a major ingredient in the school's success. Mutual respect between teachers and pupils is another - the "R" word is big in St Andrew's.

For Mr Malone, a critical factor is also the attitude - which he expects from all staff - that "they should have the same expectations for other children as they would have for their own, no more than that. It means that only excellence and the very best will do : mediocrity is not good enough."

Despite his eager collegiality, Mr Malone is clearly someone who leads from the front - and not everyone is comfortable with "the very high expectations" he places on them, as HMIE acknowledged.

He eschews the description of being a strict disciplinarian, although he did go so far a few years ago as to suggest that "condoned non-attendance at school should be made as serious an anti-social crime as drink driving".

He says he still believes strongly that it has to be so "because it's a crime against their future".

Mr Malone is clearly a man of deeply-held views who is in little doubt that a key ingredient in effective leadership is to be visible and ever-present, as he implies when referring to his CBE in 1998, awarded for services to education, nationally and locally. He is proud of the fact that he did most of that extra work in his own time. "I have never been and never will be an 'out of school' person," he declares.

His next gong might not be long in coming. "Arise, Sir Bruce"?

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