Relatively speaking - The teaching family that can't help talking shop

23rd July 2010 at 01:00
Sometimes the best CPD takes place in the home, as the three teachers in the Horsburgh clan have proved - mum Jayne, daughter Emily and son Ben


I went to Kirkcaldy High, starting at around the time Gordon Brown left. My dad was a miner, then an electrician with his own business, and my mum ran a wee corner shop in Kirkcaldy. They took over the family pub and ran it for 25 years.

If you were clever, you got to do Latin at school. I failed it at the end of the first year and was moved down to the cookery class. I'd wanted to be a teacher from quite an early age and home economics became my thing.

I wasn't advised to go to university, because I wasn't clever enough - that's just the way it was in those days. I was offered a job as assistant editor for one of the women's magazines at DC Thompson, but got a place at Moray House and took that instead.

Home economics departments were decimated after I started teaching. Initially, I had a two-year probation period at Preston Lodge High in Prestonpans, ending up in support for learning. It's very difficult to get home economics teachers now, and that's a shame. There are so many opportunities for it to come to the fore, and so many kids are interested in it.

Emily had dyslexic tendencies that affected her self-esteem, and she struggled at school. I had an inkling something was wrong. When she was about 10, she discovered the theatre and went to a group at the Adam Smith Centre. Eventually, she became a drama teacher and, by coincidence, started her probation year in 2004 at Preston Lodge High. I really admire what Emily's done to get where she is - she had to work so hard and, because of that, she has a real appreciation of drama's potential as a motivational tool.

She's very good at networking - much better than I am. She's more outgoing. I think young teachers are more inclined to say: "I'm here, and I want to do this." She had to seek people out, make connections with teachers from elsewhere and build the department up from nothing.

As a young teacher, I tried to set up cross-curricular links. I approached the biology department to suggest doing something together, but the attitude was: "We're the science department, we don't work with cookery." There was a sense of superiority.

When Ben was in P7, the kids had to do paired reading with P1s or P2s. He came home and said: "I want to be a primary teacher." He was always quite keen on working with wee ones - I've got photographs of him reading to friends' children when they were young.

When he was older and first started talking seriously about going into primary teaching, I was not sure. He was always interested in politics and history, so I pressed him to take those at university to broaden his choices - he could do a postgrad if he decided he definitely wanted to do teaching. But he was quite determined and loves teaching now.

He's ambitious. I did my Scottish Qualification for Headship when he was at university, and we would often talk about that sort of thing. I did my masters on teaching motivation, looking at why some people just go through the motions while others want to reflect and learn. He was always quite interested in that; he is also interested in leadership theory.

I can learn from him, too. What I admire most about primary teachers is the level of planning they do - I think secondary teachers can learn from that.

Ben's done really well. There were hundreds of applicants for only a few jobs when he got the post at George Watson's. I find it very difficult to relate to people who work in a local authority school but send their kids to an independent school. We teased Ben a bit about going to an independent school - in a good-natured way - but I was really, really proud of him. There can be differences when people pay for education: there's more pressure on the teachers and the young people, but Ben has access to very good resources.

My husband, Mark, is a horticulturalist who works with Fife Council but is also a lay inspector with HMIE. If anything happened to his job, he says he would like to be a classroom assistant. His HMIE role has given him a real insight into what we can do in schools.

We try hard as a family not to talk about school all the time, but it's really difficult.


I didn't really want to be a teacher when I was young. I thought about being a vet - until we got a rabbit and I had to clean out its hutch.

I found reading quite difficult because I had mild dyslexia, although I wasn't miserable at school. I have to give credit to the fact that my mum was a teacher - she really pushed the issue. I don't think I would have ended up at college or university without the support from my parents.

I always finished work well before deadlines, so that I could check things and get mum to look it over. At university, people would say they couldn't go out partying because they had a deadline - but I would have finished weeks ago.

I went to Dundee College to study drama, and thought about going into community theatre. But the course also got me working with young people. I enjoyed it and decided to apply to Moray House. When I got in and started the course, I just thought: `I was always meant to do this.'

I heard I was going to be in a "faculty" at Preston Lodge High and didn't know exactly what that was. Drama didn't really exist at the school and so I was effectively on my own - we had a faculty head, but she was a PE teacher. There was no drama in the timetable and no other drama teacher in the whole of East Lothian. I had to go up to teachers and say: "Any chance I could get involved in your subject?"

We did some great stuff with history on child labour in the cotton industry, and helped religious and moral education with difficult subjects such as abortion. It was very hard and I was glad to get another job, but I appreciate the experience.

A lot of the kids I've worked with have gone off to do theatre at college or in their own time - there doesn't seem to be so much prejudice now. More people are staying on at school because they can't get apprenticeships, and you get young men who might have gone into a trade really taking to drama.

Ben was much more academic than me. He loved reading and researching. For me, it's the hands-on stuff. I like being in the classroom, and I wouldn't give that up any time soon. Ben's very into the theory, but he's open to ideas: sometimes I can suggest how drama might bring something to life.

Although Ben's school is independent, the way you approach learning from day to day is much the same.


I had a lot of great teachers, such as Thelma Simpson at Dunnikier Primary in Kirkcaldy. It's only now that I really appreciate how much she did. Gordon MacKenzie, the headteacher at Balwearie High, knew your name, even though there were 1,700 kids. It was inspiring that people were making that effort.

When you're eight or nine you're perhaps in your own world. I know it might be another 10-15 years before pupils realise what you've done. I'm trying to create memories in the classroom. I'm always asking: "Are the kids going to go away and remember this?" You can't have an off-day and be negative, as what you say might be what stays with them.

I saw Mum doing her masters, and she inspired me to delve deeper into education. She would come home at about 6pm and go up to the office, then we would watch a little bit of TV together later in the evening. I have that work ethic, too. I'll come home from school and the voice in my head - it's my mum's voice - will say to go and do some more work.

I'm doing a leadership course this summer. Mum and I have similar philosophies, especially in relation to teacher learning and professional development. Teachers are the best resource in the classroom - you've always got to be learning something new.

Primary teaching always appealed to me: the idea of not teaching a subject, but teaching children. Emily and mum maybe have a different kind of relationship with the kids: there's a different sort of banter at secondary. But at any level you're teaching the children to teach themselves, although some will need more direction, whether they're P5 or S5.

At home, we would always have discussions about our days and share experiences. Now when we chat or get together, we'll talk about school, what's going on in the world, the latest headline in the Times Ed - dad was feeling a wee bit left out until he became a lay member of HMIE. The three of us are all very pro the new curriculum.

The children I teach are no different from any others. The fact that they're in the independent sector is irrelevant, and it's not something I would dwell on. The school is really supportive and I love the job. I'm looking forward to next year and my new position as year group leader. It's a really exciting time to be involved in Scottish education.

As told to Henry Hepburn.

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