When heads wore denim and CND badges

10th June 2011 at 01:00
The `comprehensive' age was young, and a scarcity of jobs for teachers seemed worlds away

Having started teaching in 1973, retiral beckons. I went to university knowing that I wanted to teach. One reason was that my school, Paisley Grammar, in the 1960s had several inspiring teachers. Lest any are still alive, let me thank them: Spiv McCondach (alas, deceased), Donald Campbell, Tom Wilson and Mrs McCallum. I also had a few who were so awful that I knew I could do better than them.

I studied at Ulster University, graduating in education and English. I returned to teacher training at Moray House in Edinburgh. I loved my subject, but teaching also attracted me because of the changes in Scottish education. Selection was being abolished in local authority schools. I was not unique in that generation: the first child of a working-class family to enter university and thence to teaching. We wanted to give something back.

1973 was also close to the baby-boom peak. Many old-style teachers were fleeing what they saw as the chaos of "comprehensivisation". New teachers were needed for the soaring numbers born when their parents, as Harold McMillan said, "had never had it so good". The raising of the school leaving age (ROSLA) had added a layer of reluctant conscripts to the pupil population. Getting a job was relatively simple.

At the Moray House job fair, each council pitched its stall. Aspiring teachers strolled around and interviewed directors of education. After a two-minute chat with a gentleman from Dunbartonshire, I was offered a job at Lenzie Academy, but my priority was to stay in Edinburgh. I wonder how I might have fared at Lenzie.

Fortunately, several of our Moray House class had already met Edinburgh's English adviser. We were radical, opinionated, with a huge sense of our own abilities - and so was he. We were happy to accept jobs in the lowest- status schools, former junior secondaries and peripheral estate schools. While countless graduates who knew Edinburgh contested the few jobs in prestige schools, he set us up with interviews for jobs in which they simply were not interested.

I started at Craigroyston in August 1973. I could not have been directed to a better place to learn how to teach. Hugh MacKenzie, the headteacher, was inspiring, committed to comprehensive education, a believer that, given the right conditions, everyone could learn. He occasionally wore a suit - made of blue denim. A shirt and tie were for special occasions, but a polo-neck sweater and CND badge were more normal. We learned quickly and we learned well. We reinvented the curriculum for that new age as we went along. The committed, the imaginative and the humorous survived. Fortunately, I was one of them.

Alex Wood, Secondary headteacher

Over the coming months, Alex Wood will use this column to offer some thoughts on education over the past 40 years.

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