Reeling from the loss of our superteacher

23rd March 2001 at 00:00
It is hard to believe that Marney Queen is giving up her post as principal teacher of English after 19 years. Her influence has extended far beyond the department, as she has offered a role model for aspiring and newly appointed colleagues and a discreet sounding board for at least one hard-pressed headteacher.

Major events during my term as headteacher have included the 25th anniversary of the school and the HMI inspection, but few occasions will have such permeating effects as the resignation of Marney Queen, though she will remain on the staff with responsibility for tracking that elusive and quixotic creature, the quality of learning and teaching.

The relentless march of time accounts in part for Marney's resolve to pass on the torch of leadership, but she will readily admit that the enormity of the task and the energy-sapping obstacles in her path have contributed to her decision. Like Eric Cantona, Marney wants to move on while she is still at the top of her trade and enjoying the respect and even reverence of her peers.

In a summary of inspection findings, presented for consumption by pupils and parents, I used the unequivocal headline "English a class act." The only complaint I received was from Marney, who quietly takes pleasure in her status on the staff but cringes at public praise and adulation.

Pupils appreciate that the English department has high standards, while outstanding exam results have testified to the dedication of the team. They proceed to class a little more energetically when they are due in Marney's domain. They do not scribble graffiti on their English jotters. Baseball caps are anathema. There may be no performance indicators covering such mundane matters, but they speak volubly of high expectations and of a principal teacher whobrings the very best out of her charges.

If pupils attend with minimal regularity and scrape together a Standard grade folio, they will be rewarded. Tireless efforts are made to steer as many pupils as possible through the rapids of certification. It is soul destroying for staff, then, to contemplate nationally imposed targets, which show a significant proportion of pupils who do not achieve a basic level in English because they do not come to school. Even with Pauline Kelly operating a special form class for poor attenders, and other colleagues chasing up incomplete folios, there remains a minority who cannot achieve because they fail to attend.

Teachers are no less aware of the high standards expected in Marney's territory. While younger members of the team speak warmly of the support they receive, they are acutely conscious of the demands of the best English department in Edinburgh.

Marney epitomises the qualities which will be required for chartered teacher designation. It remains to be seen whether the chartered teacher grade will spotlight the very best of teachers, who can share their skills with colleagues. There will have to be assessment of effectiveness in the classroom for aspirants to this category. Otherwise, the chartered teacher cadre will be populated exclusively by those who have found the time, energy and resources to jump through designated academic hoops.

Holy Rood can be confident that we have identified the prototype candidate for superteacher. Marney has the experience, the commitment and the credibility to improve the learning experience of pupils and expertise of colleagues. Her change of role presents me with the problem of locating a capable successor.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher at Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh

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