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‘Strict but fair’ was Scott Steele’s answer when Lochaber High School’s new head teacher was asked how pupils and staff at his former schools in the Scottish Borders might sum him up.
But the man who readily admits he has big shoes to fill in taking over from newly retired head Jim Sutherland says it is important to proceed as you mean to go on.
‘It’s been a very quick few weeks and I was straight into meetings with the school’s management team, attending pupil assemblies and meeting with teachers, which I hope to have completed by this Friday,’ Mr Steele told us during a brief break in his hectic schedule this week.
‘You need to maintain an ethos and set a standard from day one. I am strict but it is because it is important to ensure that this school proves a safe and enjoyable learning environment for everyone and I have found that is the best way to do that.’
Formerly depute rector for 10 years at Berwickshire High School in the town of Duns, where he was also acting head for a year, Mr Steele also had a spell as acting head at Kelso High School in the Borders.
‘It’s important for all the staff to see my face early on, know who I am and what I am standing for and those meetings also give an opportunity for me to listen to them.
‘I’ve also had a very good meeting with local councillors and the chairman of the school’s Parent Teacher Association.’
Mr Steele, a native of Port Glasgow, says his time in the Borders was a great experience but he made the move after the opportunity arose for him to purse a long-held dream to move to the west.
‘My family are from the west and I still have family living in the west, so I always wanted to move up this way after I first got to know the area as a teenager on holiday.’
As for his predecessor, Mr Steele said he owes a great debt of gratitude for the work done by Mr Sutherland and the staff.
‘Jim and the staff must have worked so hard to get the school to where it is today. They have done an amazing job.’
But, as a teacher, it is no surprise Mr Steele believes the age-old adage so beloved of school report cards that there is ‘always room for improvement’.
He said: ‘Basically, my job is to progress all the good work that already exists here and there is always room for improvement, no matter where you go, because you have to give yourself targets to strive for to help maintain high standards.
‘And, yes, absolutely, it is always possible to improve as long as all of the parties involved work together in a unity of purpose. Education never progresses as a result of stagnation – you always need to be looking to improve. It spurs you on.’
On his radar this week, Mr Steele’s most important target is ensuring the school’s young people are fully prepared for their looming SQA exams, with a special Easter study school and supported study classes being organised.
‘Making sure our young people are as well prepared as they can be for these upcoming examinations is at the top of my priority list,’ he added.
A keen hillwalker and road cyclist, it was while climbing in the nearby mountain range with a friend on a glorious August day last year that Mr Steele says he spotted the high school building in Fort William in the distance below.
‘I said to my friend, “That place looks impressive – I’d love to work there”, and then a few weeks later I saw the vacancy for a new head teacher advertised. I didn’t hesitate in making up my mind to go for it.’
Married to Val with a daughter, step-daughter and three-year-old grandson, Mr Steele says he is excited about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
‘I am relishing the chance to be in charge of this school as its head teacher – being a head teacher is something I always wanted to do. And it’s a dream to be able to do that in this amazing part of the world.’