Visits from the big boys;The sweeney;School management

15th October 1999 at 01:00
T he ministerial road- show heralding the advent of the educa- tion bill, "Improving Our Schools", touched down in Holy Rood recently.

We were forewarned to expect 100 guests from far-off corners of the globe like Bathgate and Haddington that were once in Lothian, but now lie beyond the fiefdom of the City of Edinburgh Council. Some were former colleagues, who appeared older but no wiser as a result of their disengagement from the capital's clutches. We fed and entertained them, with Holy Rood's accomplished jazz band, reminding them momentarily of the metropolitan luxuries they once enjoyed. I trust that this visit will sustain them culturally and educationally until they come again.

The education minister's portfolio is a guaranteed route to instant unpopularity and opprobrium. The incumbent cannot fail to displease, following in the footsteps of such teachers' darlings as Willie Ross, Michael Forsyth, Raymond Robertson and Helen Liddell.

Sam Galbraith's style was direct but not authoritarian. References to him in jackboots emerging from the unions this week did not fit the individual we encountered. Apart from political considerations, he is quite a wee man and it could be difficult to find jackboots to fit. He dealt with questions skillfully, fielding one or two towards unsuspecting education authority officers in the audience. Most of the issues were raised by the well informed, with one or two googlies bowled to enliven proceedings.

"Perhaps you could say a word about devolved school management from a headteacher's perspective," Jeff Huggins, Sam Galbraith's Scottish Executive minder, whispered to me. I managed to switch my mind from parking, teas and the janitor's overtime to comment on DSM, saying that every function which could be devolved should be, with the resources to match.

A primary headteacher vehemently disagreed, claiming all these devolved budgets were just confusing. Not half as confusing as chasing after contractors you have no control over, I thought.

The minister revealed that he was going from Holy Rood to meet the Cuban ambassador. It was 8pm. I was ready for bed and didn't envy him the privilege of exchanging pleasantries with foreign diplomats into the night.

By some miraculous quirk of time management, a visit by the director of education to the school was scheduled for the next day. Since his arrival in Edinburgh from Manchester, Roy Jobson has made a determined effort to see schools from the inside.

He is concerned with quality, and our easy chat was peppered with gentle queries such as "What are you doing about attendance?" Not content with being entertained in the headteacher's office, he visited every department in the school, and returned with perceptive comments and searching questions. Strange to say, this has never happened before during my tenure at Holy Rood.

The march of time was brought home to him by the relatively large number of young probationer teachers. We spared him a trip with the senior management team to the departure of the buses at the end of the school day, a well-loved feature in the life of Holy Rood's senior staff.

By another coincidence of lottery proportions, the director was scheduled to distribute awards to our senior pupils in Portobello Town Hall the same evening. There was an impressive turnout, with only the wet stormy weather dampening enthusiasm. The proud procession of award winners was punctuated by the girl who tripped over her platform shoes - now an annual fixture at our awards ceremonies. The director's assertion that "I would be proud to send my own children to Holy Rood" was greeted with loud applause, and reverberated through the school next day.

It helps morale to have dignitaries visiting, and there is relief to see them departing satisfied. I was able to transport back into my office my pile of "the great unread" and send the pot plants back to Eileen in the library.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher of Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh

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