Wishing you many happy returns...Head to head

26th May 2006 at 01:00
I remember, back in 1999, snuffling into my hanky when my two children left home to go to university. My husband was not doing any snuffling but was looking grimly at his thin (to get very much thinner) wallet.

Later, while bemoaning the empty nest to a friend, she told me not to be daft and that they would be home like boomerangs.

How right she was. Seven years on, I still have one at university who has boomeranged around a few degrees. The other qualified and went off to seek his fortune in Australia, landed a super job but is about to boomerang home again because he isn't happy with various aspects of life down under.

It should give heart to Jack McConnell that Scottish graduates are choosing to be at home because the opportunities and supports are better.

When we send off our senior pupils to start their SQA exams, I have to admit that I pray for wet weather in the hope that they will stay in and study. But the rain at the start of the exam diet caused its own boomerang problems in trying to find a place for them all to study while waiting for their next bus home.

Our staff are brilliant at putting on extra revision and study sessions for them but when our short burst of tropical weather arrived a none too welcome holiday atmosphere came with it and large numbers of teenagers were among the tourists on local beaches.

Exam time, although busy, has its compensations. The school is quieter and we have time to talk and to visit and see all the great things going on.

Some cameos this week were Melissa and Stephanie telling me how to curl my hair (previous dialogues have often been of a quite different nature); signing a card and T-shirt made by third years to say goodbye to their S6 buddy; hearing Cheryl, who has never sung to anyone else before, giving a superb rendering of "Somewhere over the Rainbow"; and, best of all, seeing Douglas (an alias) laughing and joking at a table with four other pupils in the dining room.

We had noticed Douglas hanging around the dining room alone in September.

He wouldn't give eye contact when we spoke to him, never mind speak back to us. So a plan was hatched, involving his tutor and tutor group, our school counsellor and support for learning team. By February he was coming up to us while we were on duty in the dining room and chatting, but was still on his own. Now, there he was looking happy and at ease with a group of pupils and he was the one holding court.

It was so good to see that and to know we had made a difference.

May is a time when we have lots of visitors. We have hosted two teams from Learning and Teaching Scotland filming our classes and interviewing staff.

The first team focused on learning and teaching. Both the people involved had experience at senior management level in schools, so their observations to me at the end of the day were important. They were greatly impressed by the quality of the learning and teaching they had witnessed and by the children's confidence and understanding of the learning process. "Everyone sings off the same hymn sheet here" was their very welcome comment.

The second group focused on involving young people and they, too, were impressed by our teachers and pupils.

Another visit involved moderation by our link HMI, following our authority's report on our progress with the action points of our inspection two years ago. While this was to be a "light touch" visit, we were still a tad nervous since it would be a litmus test on our new structures.

The inspector spoke to our senior team, heads of department and heads of year and visited some classes. We came out with flying colours. She was impressed by the teamwork and leadership at all levels in the school and the focus on monitoring pupil progress and providing support and challenges for them. Our holistic approach to pupil support was commended, as was the fact that the pupils enjoyed their tutor groups and felt their tutors knew them well. This was affirmation that we are on the right track.

Afterwards, a teacher who had spoken with the inspector said she had really enjoyed the discussion. "It's not until you start talking about it that you realise just how much you are doing," she said. And there is a key for the future: teachers need time to reflect and discuss their practice.

As you can imagine, on the boomerang theme, we are hoping there won't be a return visit.

Linda Kirkwood is headteacher of Oban HighIf you have any comments, email scotlandplus@tes.co.uk

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