The sum of their parts

4th July 2008 at 01:00
Today, we begin a new summer series in which members of teaching dynasties discuss what links them and what separates them when it comes to education
Today, we begin a new summer series in which members of teaching dynasties discuss what links them and what separates them when it comes to education

Brian Miller.

Gordon and I were fortunate to go to Glasgow High - but I believe every school should be like that. Why should people have to pay money to be educated? What is it that people pay money to go to private school for? Uniforms, learning to be respectful, having the right attitudes, getting involved? I try and instil these things all the time - hopefully it's worked.

My father said that if I got into the High School he would get me a record player. We didn't know anyone who went to a school like that. My primary teacher, Miss Roy, coached me for the entrance exam. When the headteacher of the High School, David Lees, said I had got a place, I said to my dad: "What about the record player then?" He had to go into McCullough's Stores in Shettleston and buy it on HP. My first record was "Let's Dance" by Chris Montez and I played it non-stop for two weeks before I bought the LP "With the Beatles". This was in March, 1963.

I remember at the end of third year, in 1966, the school offered me the chance to go on a Mediterranean cruise on "HMS Dunera". It cost pound;50 for 10 days, which was a lot of money then. My mum and dad agreed to pay for it, but couldn't give me spending money, so my granny took one of the National Health dried milk tins, sellotaped it up and cut a slit in the top. Everyone who came into her house had to put something into the tin for the gran'wean's school holiday. I remember watching the opening game of the World Cup on a TV in a shop window in Lisbon.

I always had a hankering to be a teacher. I applied for Strathclyde University rather than Glasgow, because you had to do physics at Glasgow in first year along with maths, whereas at Strathclyde it was maths, chemistry and computing, which had just been invented then (1969). After doing that for a while, I began to think that maybe I should do computing instead of being a teacher. At the end of third year, I got a summer job with British Steel at the Clydebridge works in Cambuslang, alongside their programmers. That made my mind up - I didn't want to work in computing. I went on to Jordanhill and trained as a maths teacher.

I loved maths - my hope was to try and pass on some of my enthusiasm to my pupils. I also loved all the other bits outside the classroom, like taking the football team early on a Saturday morning. I used to make up flasks of hot orange juice for half-time.

My first school was Eastbank Academy, then I went to Grange Academy, which is now Castlemilk High. When I was at Grange, a friend and I used to put on two showings of a film each week - for the kids after school and for the parents at night. We used to charge them twopence to get in.

When I taught in Castlemilk, I couldn't drive and I had to walk all the way down Castlemilk Drive to Croftfoot Station, take a train to Newton and then another to Uddingston. I would leave the house at 7.30am and, on film nights, wouldn't get home till nearly midnight. There were two janitors in the school - John Greig and Jimmy Johnstone (you couldn't have made it up) - and their wives would give us our dinner on those film nights.

I wasn't surprised when Gordon went into teaching, but I don't know if it was because of me. There was six years' difference between us. By the time Gordon started, I was married and out of the house. He was very involved in sport - he's still a keep-fit nut - and he played rugby for Uddingston. He would run to training and run back. He would come out for his dinner to us. We didn't talk about educational philosophy, but we swapped funny stories about what my school was up to or what his school was doing.

We still speak a minimum of once a week - we can sound off about anything to each other, just the way you would do to a fellow headteacher you were particularly pally with.

As my career progressed, I stayed more or less in the same place - Eastbank, Grange, Cranhill, Stonelaw and Dalziel. But Gordon has been all over - Lochend, Lochgilphead, Carluke, Crieff, Mearns and now Blairgowrie. There's a message in that for probationers chasing jobs - they should be sticking their heads above the parapet and be prepared to move for a job.

When I visit Gordon (he stays in Kirriemuir), it's fabulous. Nobody is in a rush. It's a wonderful feeling to get away. Maybe he likes coming down to "civilisation" and a wee bit of bustle.

We don't have particularly different styles - neither of us is frightened of making decisions. I would like to think we are both leaders. We both have a vision of what we would like our schools to be and how we are going to get there over a reasonably realistic timescale, and we both have a sense of humour. Gordon's into amateur dramatics in Kirriemuir - he's always the baddie in the Christmas pantomime and everybody boos him. I can't do that.

If we disagree on something, I just say, "I wouldn't do it that way," and that's it. We don't fall out about it.

When Gordon started at Blairgowrie last year - the school had had four headteachers in something like six years - he stood up at the staff meeting and told them: "I am here until I retire at the end of my career." The staff burst into clapping.

I'm the same in terms of commitment. I've been at Dalziel for 18-and-a-half years and I have two-and-a-half years left.

Gordon Miller

Unlike Brian, I have travelled "the world" job-wise. I started at Lochend Secondary, having done a BSc in maths and economics - although I've never taught economics - and moved to Lochgilphead. Now I'm at Blairgowrie.

He's six years older than me and I was not as aware of the sacrifices our parents made to put us through school. Being the baby of the family, I was perhaps always spoilt - that's what they tell me, anyway.

Every school has a very important and formative effect on your development. I look back with great fondness on my days at the High School, but I have not kept up many of the friendships. The boys came from all over Glasgow and very few lived within our vicinity of the city. Even so, it got me involved in rugby. I've always been interested in sport. I did a couple of marathons until I got bored. The latest interests are golf and Munro-bagging - I'm up to 65 Munros.

I suppose my time at the High School has left me with one or two issues. I feel strongly that single-sex schools are not a good thing, not that I felt inhibited, but I don't think they are the way that young people should be brought up. It is not healthy for attitudes and values that we keep the sexes apart.

I am firmly committed to the comprehensive principle. Rather more controversially, I would not have separate schools on religious grounds - I would have everyone in the same school.

Nor would I have selective schools, but I can see the need for streaming for some subjects at specific times. When I was headteacher at Mearns Academy, we looked to stream in first year and quickly did away with it. It was wrong for a number of reasons. I think when young people started off their secondary school career they felt it was difficult to progress, given that we already placed boundaries on their potential. Being in first-year mixed-ability sections, we could support them better with the staff we had.

I think you always look up to your big brother. As people will know, Brian can be a forceful character and I suppose with him having been to Strathclyde University, I knew what was ahead. He could help and advise and probably made the transitions easier in many respects at university and in teaching. It seemed a natural thing to do.

We are very different.

Brian is highly motivated - he's driven by what he does and he has a huge sense of commitment to Dalziel High, though it would be the same wherever he was working. He is a strong leader and his colleagues acknowledge that.

We have our own styles. There are times when you need to take hard decisions. It's useful to have someone like Brian whom you can chat with. He will give you a straight answer, quite unequivocally.

Brian is a pioneer of early presentation of pupils for exams in S3 and, from what I have seen, the evidence is strongly in its favour. I believe early presentations allow you to increase attainment levels at Higher and, if you get your Standard grade finished by the end of S3, you can do the vocational element with no loss of this element. Even for the lower-ability pupils, that has to be a big plus. We are going to begin early presentations with our first years in 2009.

There's another difference between us: Brian is a Rangers fan and goes to Ibrox regularly; I support St Johnstone. Both play in blue.

As told to Elizabeth Buie

Brian and Gordon Miller - headteachers of Dalziel High, in Motherwell, and Blairgowrie High - grew up in the Sandyhills area of Glasgow.

Brian, the oldest of three boys, and Gordon, the youngest, both won places to the fee-paying High School of Glasgow, then an all-boys' school. It meant their mother had to work at the fish market in Glasgow, leaving the house at 5.30 in the morning, to supplement the income of their father, an insurance agent.

The boys became maths teachers and subsequently headteachers. Their middle brother, Derek, has a sheriff's officer business and is, they say, 'the one with the money'.

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