A Miscellany of Memories – Part 6
In 1987 I was asked if I would like to run a major school capital appeal to fund the construction of new Technology Centres on each site – I think my senior management colleagues must have thought I would be the perfect candidate given my ‘expertise’ teaching Latin verbs on the BBC computers! I am not sure looking back why I agreed so readily as at the same time I continued to teach almost a full timetable (I think I was given three periods off each week for the year!), run the Classics Department, lead an overseas tour or two, coach the 1st XV and whatever else I was doing at the time. There was also the slight problem that I knew virtually nothing about the new world of technology other than that it was ‘a good thing’ which made it slightly challenging when I was asked technical questions about what the schools needed and why, as I visited various companies which had been identified as potential supporters.
My very first visit to a major international IT company headquartered in Edinburgh was particularly instructive. After a friendly conversation with the CEO (who was also the parent of an SMC boy), I was amazed to be asked how much I wanted. I had not thought that far ahead so just said £20,000. I was surprised, very surprised, when he took out a cheque book (remember them?) from a drawer and started to write a cheque. However, he stopped before inserting the school name and said he had suddenly thought of a problem. He then showed me a letter he had recently received from a national charity which focussed on children with disabilities asking if his company could donate a mini-bus to be used to bring children to various activities. The CEO wondered out loud who should get the cheque he was writing and I said that of course it should be used to support the children’s charity. He smiled and completed the cheque.
Feeling somewhat deflated I thought that was it until he explained that although I had presented the schools’ case well, I had made a crucial mistake by asking for a charitable donation. Yes, he knew the schools were a charity but the purpose of his company’s charitable donations was not to support the development of schools like ours, however important the cause. He told me that rather than asking for charity I should have told him how fortunate it was that I was giving him the opportunity to invest in the future of his company by developing strong links with schools whose pupils might become his employees. He then explained that he also controlled a second budget which backed projects worthy of his company’s investment so I asked him if he would consider a £20,000 donation from it instead. He wrote a second cheque and I learned an important lesson!
After this slightly inauspicious start I felt that nothing ventured, nothing gained and with the support of numerous colleagues who were happy to organise fund-raising events too numerous to recall, as well as admin support from the school offices, I began to approach more and more businesses linked to the schools and to ask for contributions. I am not sure how we managed it but we did succeed in reaching the £1 million target. The centres were built and, I am pleased to say, are still in use 40 years later. I remember that one of the events we organised was the first Fun in the Sun, a huge outdoor event at Ravelston which included hot-air balloons, stalls of every description, a dog show and all the fun of the fair. The sun shone all day so, whenever I organised other Fun in the Sun events to raise money for some cause or other, everyone knew the sun would shine …… and it always did! Well, almost always!
The Duke of Edinburgh was invited to open the centres and agreed. On the day of the official opening he was driven in through the Queensferry Road gates past flag-waving Junior School children and stopped to chat with them.
Twenty years later, and by now Vice Principal, I was asked to lead another capital appeal, this time to raise the very considerable sums needed to transform the gloomy but functional SMC Assembly Hall into what is now the Tom Fleming Centre. This time there was considerably more administrative support. Sufficient sums were raised for the Governors to decide that the project should go ahead and excavation started in August 2006. Almost 600 tons of soil etc were excavated from below the basement of the Assembly Hall in two dumper trucks before the beautiful new Performing Arts Centre began to take shape and eventually became a jewel in the ESMS crown. I was asked to ensure that it paid for itself by the sums generated from external lets and enthusiastically began to do just that. However, within a few months it became clear that school use of the new facilities was increasing exponentially as more and more colleagues requested access. The need to generate income was quietly dropped and the Centre became the heart of the Queensferry Road site.
TIME FOR A CHANGE
Brian Head resigned from his position as Head of what was snappily called at the time The Combined Junior School of Daniel Stewart’s and Melville College and the Mary Erskine School (known colloquially as the CJS) in June 1989, his departure coinciding with the retiral of the Principal, Robin Morgan, and his replacement by Patrick Tobin. I was very happy and settled in my role as Head of Middle School at SMC and 1stXV rugby coach but decided to apply for the Junior School post for reasons which I cannot now recall except that I knew I would enjoy working with younger children and that I liked a challenge. I had always looked forward to the Primary 7 classes to whom we taught Latin at the time. I was more surprised than anyone else when I was offered the post and accepted it before someone changed their mind.
This was undoubtedly the best decision I ever made and the next 27 years proved to be full of memorable moments, far too many for me to even try to recall more than a very few.
Before I do so it is only fair to say that soon after my appointment and before I assumed my new responsibilities I did wonder momentarily whether I had made the correct decision. This followed a conversation with some senior boys after a Higher Latin class who told me they thought I must be mad – one of them said he could not imagine spending all his time with young children given the fact that he found his 10 year old twin brother and sister so immature!
However, I think I always knew that it would be a great move and was even more convinced following two conversations shortly after I took over which confirmed in my mind just how fortunate I was to have been given such a wonderful opportunity.
I have already said that as a senior school teacher, I always enjoyed teaching the basics of Latin to Primary 7 children but it is also true to say that I tended to set different expectations for Junior School classes in comparison to what I had expected of the Senior boys. During my first week in my new post I decided to speak with groups of Primary 7 children to see what they thought about school and was very struck by how mature and sensible they all seemed to be during our conversations. I asked why they thought I had found boys of their age immature when I had been an SMC teacher whereas they now seemed so much more mature and interesting. They told me quite openly that they behaved like little children in classes taught by secondary school teachers because that is what the teachers expected. However, as they were at the ‘top’ of the Junior School their primary school teachers expected them to behave maturely – so they did! Lesson learned!
This lesson was reinforced almost immediately by an incident in an SMC Science laboratory during a class which was being delivered to Primary 7 boys by a senior school specialist. They had been given safety instructions which included being told they were not to touch test-tubes or anything else made of glass. One of the boys had received a punishment for carrying a glass beaker across the room and I was asked to speak with him. He apologised but did not seem to understand what he had done wrong, other of course than not following instructions. I asked him why he thought the punishment was unfair and he told me that children in the Junior School from Primary 5 age were allowed to carry glass implements and trusted not to injure themselves. Now he was two years older and was no longer trusted! It was of course all to do with expectations and I learned an important lesson which I would never forget – children will meet high, or low, expectations. The higher the expectations, the more the children in the Junior School would flourish. I never underestimated them again.