Tony McDaid

15th February 2013 at 00:00
The headteacher at Calderglen High in East Kilbride, the first secondary to have its curriculum deemed 'excellent' by inspectors under new Education Scotland guidelines, talks about his school's ethos and approach to professional development. Interview by Henry Hepburn Photography by James Glossop

How would you describe your school?

Busy, lively, with a real sense of community. We have about 1,600 pupils and a truly comprehensive mix.

How are you instilling confidence in staff about CfE's senior phase?

We've been in a fortunate position. Many staff were involved in a merger in 2007. I think people are able to see that you can cope with really significant change.

With the debate about 3+3 and 2+2+2, which have you adopted?

Third years, for the first time, will have an options choice - the main one. In a sense, that's a 3+3 model, although we will have personalisation and choice at the end of second year as well.

How many Nationals will pupils study?

Most will do seven. We are looking at the longer term, where we can start to align fourth, fifth and sixth year. When you move the system forward, we're looking at six. But we've not finalised that.

Inspectors praised the 'mutual respect' in the school. What is the best example?

The role of pupils: that they feel they belong, are treated equally and fairly, and feel it is their school. That they have a say - good or bad - and feel they can come to anyone. Pupils genuinely appreciate that staff go well beyond what is expected to help them.

They were also impressed by pupils' independent thinking. How does the school encourage this?

We encourage them to make decisions. I'm always impressed with the work young people do in primary schools - almost running their school. It can be a cliche to say you deskill them in first year, but I think we've been much better at tapping into what happens in primary school.

Any great examples?

Interdisciplinary learning for second year: we take all 300 away from their timetable for a month. They do three activities based on their future. One group does a STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) project, about building a car of the future; another develops a graphic novel. The other activity is The 2041 Show - they create a TV programme - where they try to construct what life will be like when they're 40.

How do you avoid tokenism with pupil leadership?

It's very important that pupils see the difference they've made, are able to explain that to fellow pupils, at assemblies, in PSHE classes - that that's normal practice. It's about being relentless - you don't do something at the beginning of term and revisit it only once.

What's your view on allowing pupils to use their own mobile devices?

I'm for it, but we have a responsibility to encourage appropriate use. It's important that we connect to young people's lives, but we need to ensure there's a degree of parity. When somebody brings out a #163;500 iPhone, how does the other pupil feel? The teacher has to be ultra-sensitive.

And total internet access for pupils?

I'm probably closer to that than 'don't do it'. The idea that young people aren't on Facebook - well, they are. But there will need to be something that looks at what they're doing. We use Twitter to communicate with parents; to deny pupils seems daft.

Calderglen was committed to the chartered teacher scheme. What was its impact?

We've benefited from people's professional development. We tried to draw them in and say, "Can you share your practice?" People will listen to colleagues when they say, warts and all, "This has worked, but here are the limitations."

What do you think about its demise?

There were inherent difficulties. School to school, you might not know who was on the programme. We got the benefit of many of those staff. But in these times, I'm not sure it could have continued without really changing the model. Recognising the work teachers do in the classroom was laudable; the difficulty is if pupils don't quite get the collective benefit.

You share a campus with Sanderson High, a 100-pupil school for children with additional needs. How important is that?

They're our most important partner. We've learned hugely from them. Young people see pupils with some additional support needs in one area, but they're in their class in another area. They probably then understand that all of us have a variety of needs.

Teachers' reluctance to go for headships is a long-running issue. Why should anyone take that step?

Because it's an extension of why people got into the job in the first place. It continues to be about daily work with young people and seeing that influence.

More so than in the past?

Possibly. And you can have a slightly wider influence, and potentially play a tremendous role within the community.

What's been your proudest moment?

Perhaps some activities young people are involved in with the community. We have senior pupils going to a care home on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. They play cards and draughts, and have conversations with senior citizens who have dementia. I'm not sure at 16 or 17 I'd have been able to do that. I really like, too, when former pupils come back and still have a strong sense of being part of the school, that it has contributed to their lives.


Born: Glasgow, 1969

Education: John Bosco Secondary, Glasgow; Scottish School of Physical Education at Jordanhill, Glasgow

Career: PE teacher, Lourdes Secondary, Glasgow; principal teacher PE, John Bosco Secondary, Glasgow; headteacher, Cathkin High, Cambuslang; head, Hunter High, East Kilbride, 2006-07; appointed designate headteacher of Calderglen High - formed from merger of Hunter and Claremont high schools - in 2006.

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