What comes naturally matters

4th July 2008 at 01:00
Education Supporter of the Year Tom Paterson is called `janitor extraordinaire' because of the many roles he takes at Inveraray Primary, while Kirsten Darling, Probationary Teacher of the Year, is making waves with her aptitude in ICT

Education Supporter of the Year Tom Paterson is called `janitor extraordinaire' because of the many roles he takes at Inveraray Primary, while Kirsten Darling, Probationary Teacher of the Year, is making waves with her aptitude in ICT

Tom paterson used to serve the Duke and Duchess of Argyll at grand Inveraray Castle. Now he serves the staff and pupils at Inveraray Primary as the school janitor. A step down in the world? Not as far as he is concerned: he prefers the latter - it's more fun.

Certainly, Inveraray Primary is delighted to have Mr Paterson, who joined the school five years ago. Headteacher Lynn Kidd calls him "janitor extraordinaire" and describes him as "the most enthu-siastic supporter of all that happens in the school" - a fact recently acknowledged at the Scottish Education Awards when Mr Paterson was named education supporter of the year.

Mr Paterson says: "It's in my nature to put myself forward for lots of things - I like to cram a lot in. The staff and the boys and girls here are fantastic to get on with. We're one big team here, a family."

Ms Kidd confirms that Mr Paterson can be relied upon "not just to do his job, but to go that extra 500 miles", quite literally sometimes. Mr Paterson is just back from a school trip to the Lake District with P5-7. Over the five days, during visits to the Beatrice Potter museum, Wordsworth's house and a boat trip on Lake Windermere, he provided a male figure for the boys to go to - a role he is well used to, given he is the only man on the staff at Inveraray Primary.

However, "showing what a good man is", as Ms Kidd puts it, is just the beginning of Mr Paterson's involvement with pupils.

His main interest is the great outdoors - his hobbies are fishing, walking and cycling - and he has played a "vital role" in helping the school secure three Eco Flags. Currently, he is in the midst of supporting pupils to secure their fourth by managing the school's latest project, hot- composting, which has involved doubling the number of raised beds for growing vegetables.

Mr Paterson also provides "priceless" support, according to Ms Kidd, to the teachers that lead the school's new Forest Schools initiative. "Tom has taken a full part in Forest Schools sessions, helping to prepare resources and assisting in delivering sessions where his role as a significant other has added great value. He has also been involved in planning sessions, offering practical support and advice to teachers. This is far out-with his remit and recognised by all newly-fledged and insecure Forester Leader staff as price-less input."

Forest Schools, Mr Paterson explains, teaches children about nature and to leave forests as they find them. They learn their knots and cook damper bread - flour and water mixed to make dough - over fires they have set under the watchful eye of staff.

"I'd say I'm more of a practical person and you get some kids like that. This is the kind of thing they can really excel at and it gives them confidence.

"People talk about drugs and all that. You have to make kids realise that the great outdoors is the greatest drug of them all."

Cycling proficiency, which he delivers with P6-7 teacher Fiona Hamilton, is another feather in his cap.

"It takes a few months, starting off in the playground with the basic exercises," he says, "then we go out on the roads and make them that wee bit safer. They are all capable of going a cycle but this is about going through the proper motions."

Then there is the gardening club and Nordic walking club, both of which Mr Paterson has a hand in, and the trips to the wildlife seminars put on by Scottish Natural Heritage, which he has organised.

Over and above these specific activities, on a daily basis Mr Paterson welcomes pupils, parents, staff and visitors to the school; monitors the children at break times; and makes it his business to keep up-to-date with their learning plans.

He has even been known, says Ms Kidd, to tour the school at night, reading the learning outlines on the board so that he knows teachers' plans for the next day in case he can make a contribution.

On occasion he has saved teachers hours of preparation time, she says. "Jobsworth is not in Tom's vocabulary. His input and support are beyond measure."

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