Leave your door open, and let the good ideas flow in

29th April 2016 at 00:00
Award-nominated headteacher explains the positive culture of ‘possibilism’ that permeates his school

The Key to outstanding school leadership, if colleagues of one of the UK’s top headteachers are to be believed, is simple: always leave your door open.

Stuart Maxwell, headteacher at Eastwood High School, Newton Mearns, leads one of seven Scottish entrants shortlisted for the 2016 TES Schools Awards, and will compete with seven others from across the UK for Headteacher of the Year.

“The key to his success is relatively simple,” said Graeme Gardner, a former depute head at the East Renfrewshire school. “He is extremely approachable. He has an open-door policy and takes a genuine interest in the welfare of everyone in the school community.”

Tea and biscuits

Mr Maxwell talks individually to every S4 and S5 at the 1,000-pupil school, helping them think about their progress in the run-up to exams. “Tea with Maxwell”, is another popular innovation: groups of S6 pupils spend the morning interval with their headteacher, discussing post-school options over tea and biscuits.

The former geography teacher told TESS that, in talking with individual pupils, he sometimes picks up on problems that might be missed elsewhere. S4 pupil Amarah Saeed said that Mr Maxwell’s leadership had made her and fellow classmates “more confident, motivated and willing to learn”.

His open-door policy applies equally to staff, in recognition that a head alone cannot drive a school to success: “Ultimately, you’re in charge – but you can’t have all the good ideas.”

Mr Maxwell, who has been head since 2002, tries to create a culture of “possibilism”, where staff feel able to explore new ideas. “My job is to try and find as many ways as possible to say ‘Yes’,” he said.

‘Chameleon’ leaders

He believes that a headteacher has to get out of the office as often as possible to understand colleagues’ work, and that school leaders need “chameleon-like qualities” – in other words, different approaches work for different people.

Meanwhile, an East Dunbartonshire school is the only Scottish nominee shortlisted in two categories. St Ninian’s High is up for Secondary School of the Year, as well as the Community and Collaboration Award.

Exclusion figures at the Kirkintilloch school, have fallen to almost zero and the number of its pupils gaining three or more Higher passes in 2015 is double that of 2007.

Strong partnerships with outside organisations form one of the school’s outstanding features. The Royal Bank of Scotland and BNP Paribas work with St Ninian’s pupils on finance education, for example, while the Glasgow Film Theatre helps drama students improve their skills.

Another partner is Celtic Football Club. The Celtic Youth Academy, a groundbreaking idea in Scotland, has been up and running since 2009. It helps talented young footballers work on their skills while also emphasising educational progress.


‘Improving the creative skills of the whole community’

Forth Valley College has won the Best Teaching and Learning Initiative at the TES FE Awards.

At a ceremony at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel last week, the college was praised for its creative approaches. This included science students working on experiments with local early years pupils, and construction students teaming up with make-up artistry peers to learn about injuries that workshop machinery can cause.

Judges said the college had “improved the creative skills and experience of its learners and the whole community”.

Scottish colleges received 10 nominations overall, with three each for Forth Valley College and Edinburgh College. Dundee and Angus College was shortlisted as College of the Year, while Stewart McKillop, South Lanarkshire College’s principal, was up for Leader of the Year.

Julia Belgutay

TES Schools Awards nominees

The other Scottish schools nominated for an award at this year’s ceremony are:

Alternative Provision of the Year

Falkland House School, Fife

One standout scheme saw teachers and pupils start a contract-services company at the all-boys special school. Pupils apply and train for roles, before carrying out various jobs around the school, which helps them understand the demands of work.

Science, Technology and Engineering Team of the Year

Katrena McDonald, Ayr Academy, South Ayrshire

She helped S4 physics students analyse data gathered by astronaut Major Tim Peake and present findings at the National Science Museum in London – despite pupils feeling “completely out of their comfort zone”, having never before shared ideas even with peers.

Mearns Primary School, Newton Mearns, East Renfrewshire

Three “science champions”, trained by the Scottish Schools Education Research Centre (SSERC), help fellow staff gain more confidence in Stem. Monthly online “topical science” updates allow the school to share expertise with hundreds of primary teachers across the UK.

Creative School of the Year

Middleton Park Primary School, Aberdeen

Every week, pupils share their learning by uploading films online, leading to more than 50,000 hits in 80 countries. They have also worked on a joint production of Macbeth with a school in Wuhan, China.

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