Say after me: all will be splendid

29th August 2003 at 01:00
What, I wonder, is your response to that frequent question: "How are things?" Mine is: "Splendid!" It is my cover for all feelings.

Some years ago, while I was depute to Pat Scanlan at St Margaret Mary's Secondary in Glasgow, he found amusement in this stock reply. Headteachers have to present, in whatever form they choose, an answer that all is well, all is in safe hands.

These thoughts fill my mind at the start of this new session.

At St Paul's High we welcome six new probationer teachers. My hopes for them are extensive but my highest is that they have arrived with no extra baggage.

A year ago we welcomed two such colleagues: both were outstanding, as it transpired. As the year progressed I met formally with Sohail, who was working wonders in the science department. He was delightfully open about his perceptions of the school. So honest, indeed, that he told me that friends, on learning of his appointment to a school in an outlying area of Glasgow, had warned that horror and terror awaited him.He now found that amusing to the point of being laughable.

It caused me no surprise. How often are the judges of our schools those who have never set foot within our classrooms?

It is trite to presume that this term will be "challenging". It will be no more, nor less challenging than years gone by. It will throw up unexpected issues; it will have tears and happiness. The pupils, their parents and our staff will daily provide the plot for the unscripted drama that will unfold as the months roll by.

Each school will have identified priorities. Our staff are embarking on a new approach to managing classroom conduct. It is most ambitious, attempting to bring together the partners in learning - pupils, parents and teachers - and grasp directly the responsibility for effective learning. I will keep you informed of our progress.

It was a sound piece of policy-making, embracing consultation with staff, active parental involvement and pupil participation throughout the school.

It took time and a lot of commitment from two staff working groups. It deserves success.

The school will continue to scrutinise work done in S1 and S2 to try to improve the pace and quality of pupils' learning experiences. Doubtless it will be criticised by unknown experts but I remain fortified by the inspectorate's perspective that this area still demands drive in our secondaries.

I start this session with great concerns for staff. Management restructuring via McCrone presents a hard task of raising morale after the job-sizing exercise. No doubt inadvertently, many outstanding staff start this term feeling undervalued, years of commitment apparently carrying no weight. Conservation of salaries is akin to a slap on the face. In a school noted for its staff harmony, this exercise has had immense potential for instability.

So, what kind of year will it be? Only one answer: splendid!

Rod O'Donnell is headteacher of St Paul's High in Glasgow

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