Still loads to do before the break comes

17th June 2005 at 01:00
Teenagers can be hilarious. We were in the dining room during a busy lunchtime and Arfon, one of the second years, who "has his moments", was talking to his head of year. I caught only the tail end of the conversation, but it was quite enough!

Arfon had decided that his head of year was younger than his headteacher. Now I happen to know that my colleague is exactly the same age as I am, so I approached them both and with a steely glare suggested to Arfon that it might be in his interest to reconsider his judgment.

Arfon unwisely stuck to his guns and as I pursued him across the room, I could hear the gales of laughter from the catering staff who had seen and heard the whole exchange.

A day later Arfon had obviously reconsidered his faux pas. He came into the depute head's office while I was there, looking for photographs of staff as babies for a "Guess the name" competition. Arfon, presumably thinking that a bit of buttering up would help in his quest, announced that my depute looked much older than me. (He is in fact much younger, but I wasn't saying anything.) Arfon now has a baby pic of his very happy headteacher but none of a very disgruntled depute.

During the same week, while despairing of the dismal weather (in Oban one knows when the summer has arrived: the rain is slightly warmer) a somewhat unwelcome but very tropical surprise hit us. Seven Madagascan cockroaches, escapees from their tank in the science technicians' room, have gone missing.

Ghastly things they are, about four inches long and they hiss by using the hairs on their backs. It almost goes without saying that, naturally, the children love them.

How they managed to escape no one knows. I am assured that the lid on their tank is heavy. (We are picturing a cockroach pyramid and great heavings and shovings.) We have called them the Magnificent Seven.

Gruesome stories abound, but Environmental Health assure us that we won't return in August to a cockroach-infested school. On their advice, we now have banana traps all over the school, but walk warily and on tip-toes.

On the home run now, we've been trying to get as much as possible done through May and June. We've gone through major changes this session and were anxious to do a thorough evaluation of the impact.

Our senior leaders and heads of year spent a day in May working through our approach to the review and evaluation. Working from what we are trying to provide for our students expressed in the form of outcome statements, we developed a pupil questionnaire (borrowing the style from the school inspectors' one) and staff questionnaires.

The staff responses were very helpful. We now know what we can do to support them further.

Our pupils also took the questionnaire very seriously and most of their responses were highly positive. Some quite clear messages came through, however. A small minority still don't feel that they are well known by a member of staff; some feel that their learning is disrupted by others, and about a third feel that they are not listened to.

It is very difficult to build a strong sense of community in a large school. However, we feel that we have found the key to this through dividing the school into tutor groups of 20 or less; and where staff have worked hard to get to know their groups and build community spirit among them, the pupil evaluations are highly positive.

School councils can also help but cannot reach every child, and every child is important.

Our further roll-out of critical skills training (over 50 staff are now trained) will go a long way to giving staff the tools to help children feel a sense of worth, of belonging and of having a voice.

This year's evaluations will be our benchmark against which we can measure the impact of further work next session.

In the meantime, if one more person says to me that we're on the run-down to the holidays, I think I'll scream. After all, we've got the new timetable going, our S5 and S6 induction, our three-day P7 induction, half the school going to Blair Drummond Safari Park near Stirling and the MDs theme park at Motherwell, various trips abroad, school sports day and junior prizegiving to while away the hours until the end of term.

After that I will be packing my case very carefully as I prepare for a holiday in sunny parts. I usually manage to take a few dead midges but this year I'll be hoping I don't export some Madagascan cockroaches.

Linda Kirkwood is headteacher of Oban High

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