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Loch Awe

Education at Dalmally Primary School 1975 - 1996

The old school building at Dalmally closed for good at the end of the 1975/6 session, and on that final day, the 25th of March, the move to the brand new building began. A minibus from the Education Department headquarters in Dunoon arrived in the morning and the flitting proceeded in stages.First Mrs J.D. McLaren, teacher of the P.6 & 7 classes, moved all her equipment and books from the old school's terrapin accommodation to the new school. Then Mrs C. McLaren's P.4 & 5 classes removed their equipment and finally the Head Teacher, Mrs Rodger, organised her P.1, 2 & 3 classes to move their materials before lunch. In the afternoon every pupil and staff member marched from the old school to the new building and settled in. Mr James Gibson had been appointed as janitor and now the school was ready to start a new era.

On the 7th of April, 1976, Dalmally school officially opened and an assembly was led by Mr McVean to mark the occasion. The transition was smooth and lessons continued much as normal. On the 22nd of that month there was a final sale of furniture in the old school, followed by tea and biscuits in the new building to allow parents to look around. The first HMI inspection took place on the 19th of May that year with two inspectors spending the day and commenting favourably on the new accommodation.

When that first session ended, with a prize-giving and concert on the 28th of June 1976, two elderly former pupils of the old school were honoured guests. Mrs H. Jamieson presented prizes to pupils while Mr J. McVean gave a well-received talk on the history of the school as it had been sixty years previously. On this same occasion a presentation was made to Mrs Rodger who was moving on to take up the headship of Bridge of Orchy Primary School. The new school's first sports day was held at this time and the local Mart field (to which the school was given regular access by the kind permission of Mr J. Kennedy) had been prepared by the janitor. However after heavy rains it was too waterlogged and so events were held indoors.

When school resumed on the 19th of August, 1976 the new Head Teacher was Mrs Margaret Stevenson and her staff consisted of Mrs J.D. McLaren and Mrs C. McLaren as well as assistant probationer teacher, Mr John Edgar. At this time the school still maintained a very healthy roll of eighty-six pupils. In September that year the then Director of Education for the newly created Strathclyde Regional Council, Mr Edward Miller, visited the school in person and was favourably impressed.

School life at this time was busy and well-balanced with visiting instructors in music and P.E., for instance, to supplement the daily curriculum. Mr Edgar apparently established a fine five-a-side football league on Friday afternoons for P.5-7 boys, while Mrs Rodger took the girls for craft & hobbies. The close relationship with Letterwood School remained strong. Miss Fay Black and her small group of pupils attended services and certain classes with the Dalmally children regularly.

Additional staff members in the school at this time included the auxiliary Mrs Burns who served the school well and with her husband, the head forester at Glenorchy, proved to be good friends of the school over many years. In 1977 John Edgar completed his training and moved to Airdrie to be replaced for a time by Mrs Gwen Duff. At this period the school log notes that the cost of a school lunch was 25p., though pupils bringing packed lunches also ate in the dining area.

In April 1978 a meeting was held to consider rezoning the catchment area for Dalmally and Ardchonnel schools. Mrs Stevenson supported the motion that the boundary be moved to the junction of the Cladich / Dalmally roads which would involve two pupils being transferred to Ardchonnel but would resolve other transport difficulties for some of the outlying districts. However the parents involved were "horrified at the thought of the children travelling on the Lochside road in winter" and the motion was defeated.

Miss Black eventually moved on to the headship of Achaleven Primary and Mrs. Duff took over. It was at this time that the Authority began to consider closing Letterwood Primary and arranging transport for the small number of pupils there to attend the larger new school at Dalmally.

The perennial weather problems during this period affected not only transport arrangements for the wide-spread catchment, but the school building itself. In 1978 the staff returned from holiday to discover the school was unfit to be opened for use as repairs had not been completed during the break. All hands set to, and the staff managed to organise and tidy the building in readiness for the pupils' arrival the following day.

By 1980 the roll had declined considerably to 45. The school was organised around a general open area and groups of pupils would withdraw to different rooms for particular classes. The educational principle of cooperative teaching was vigorously practised and the school was able to call on the services of remedial support one day a week from a Mrs Jackson. The following year, with the roll back above the fifty mark, there were strong hopes of gaining an additional teaching post and parents backed this campaign but the proposal was not to be successful.

>From the earliest days of the new school, close links were maintained with the other local schools such as Letterwood, Ardchonnel and Bridge of Orchy. Pupils from the latter for example would attend Dalmally for football or netball occasionally and in May 1981 P.1-4 pupils from Dalmally visited the six pupils in Bridge of Orchy to create jointly an "Indian Reservation" which proved to be a highly successful activity.

Over the years several enthusiastic and committed support staff have worked in the school and the Head's log for 1982 notes the departure of a temporary janitor, Mr O'Neill, as a particular loss. He proved invaluable in, for instance, securing new goalposts for the football field and generally filled in admirably during a lengthy period of illness suffered by Mr Gibson who was himself a long-serving janitor and contributed to school life as did his wife on occasion.

Teaching staff continued to change too, and in June 1982 when Mrs J.D. McLaren retired early, a new probationer, Miss Kay Mathieson, was appointed. She moved into the schoolhouse at Letterwood. At this time the team teaching approach was still employed in the school. In the early 1980s computers began to appear in schools, changing much of the content as well as the process of education. Miss Mathieson attended an early inservice on the use of micro-computers in schools in 1983 and by December the school boasted its very own BBC computer. The roll was now down to 34 and with a free classroom the local pre-school group, supervised by Mrs Villani , was able to meet for two mornings a week in the school. The end of this session saw more changes and Mrs Horsnell , now at Letterwood, produced a display covering 90 years history of that school. Unfortunately Letterwood was not to survive for its centenary, but the new Dalmally school carried forward some of its long traditions. A time capsule was buried in Letterwood school grounds with relevant materials on education, staff and pupils. This must have felt like the end of an era for the Dalmally Head Teacher as she notes in her final entries in the log her plans to take early retirement. Mrs Burns, auxiliary since 1975, also chose to leave at this point as her husband was promoted to Chief Forester in another area.

The 1984/5 session began with a roll of 40 pupils and in that year the new auxiliary Mrs Frances McIntyre was employed. The decision to close Letterwood was finally taken in February 1985, leading to better teacher-pupil ratios in Dalmally and improved transport for the pupils who had to be conveyed to the new school. On April 3rd Mrs Stevenson the outgoing Head Teacher of Dalmally attended what must have been a memorable farewell presentation at which an ex-pupil piped her into the school. Miss Kay Mathieson became acting head and later that year new staff member Mrs Hilary Parkes joined the team.

The 1985/6 session was the beginning of a completely new era when the present Head Teacher, Mr George Kay, first took up the appointment; with Mrs Horsnell moving from Letterwood to teach P.1 &2, and Miss Olbrich, a probationary teacher, teaching P.3 &4. The roll was now around 53 and many innovations were introduced to involve parents and establish the school at the heart of the community. The new monthly Open Assemblies were an immediate success with 25-30 parents and friends attending the first event. The school was now structured around an open area for P1 & 2 and P.3 & 4 classes, with P.5, 6 & 7 occupying Room 1 while Room 2 was used as a library, TV room and space for the continuing playgroup.

By 1990 the roll was down to 38 and the staffing remained at three members. In this year the first of the new School Boards were established and Dalmally had a good turnout of parents for its elections. The following year Mrs Mary McCool joined the staff to teach P.4 & 5 but the school was now one teacher short as the Head was on secondment to work as Staff Tutor for Learning Support. Amongst all the teachers who contributed over the years to the school and found a welcome in the community there was inevitably the occasional disappointment and this year one new teacher who had seemed enthusiastic and eager to fill the vacancy decided after only a few days to resign the post, unable to settle in the area. This must be the shortest stint by any staff member in the school's history. Mr Peter Bissett was the eventual and welcome replacement and he worked until the following October when Mr Kay's secondment ended and he resumed teaching duties. A new kitchen helper also joined the team at this time - Mrs J. Strettle who became a valuable contributor to school life, conducting cycling proficiency instruction for P7 pupils for instance.

In 1991 the school was again at the forefront of educational developments, being chosen as a pilot school in Argyll for a new regional package on teaching drama, thus reinforcing the long-standing tradition of such activity in Dalmally. National Testing became a controversial issue at this period and in the first round of tests local opinion was not favourable to the innovation. Of the twelve eligible families at Dalmally, ten withdrew their children and in the event only two pupils sat the tests at some cost to the school in time and labour. The following year saw yet another new staff member, Mrs V. McCallum, and the roll rose again to 39. A major new organisational development was the involvement of the school in the East Lorn Cooperative, along with Taynuilt, Kilchrenan and Dalavich. Bridge of Orchy school continued to visit and make joint use of specialist support staff. As educational change continued apace other innovations included the new DMR or Delegated Management of Resources system enhancing the financial autonomy of the school. Yet more new staff have joined the school in recent years, including Mrs Harrison teaching P1 & 2 and Mrs McGregor who replaced Mrs MacCallum in 1993/4. That year the technological developments continued too, with the school being linked up to Argyll OnLine an educational computer network allowing isolated and rural schools across the authority to communicate effectively. Pupils in P.6 & 7 agreed to take responsibility for maintaining a page on "FAB", the newsletter site for children on the network, and this proved highly successful.

The most recent HMI report in 1994 was very favourable and led to a feature in the Oban Times. Staff and pupils were commended and the local community links were highlighted as a particular strength. Since then developments continue, with certain staff changes - Mrs Connelly a music support teacher, for instance, retired recently - and more educational initiatives being introduced, such as a Primary French Project for which Mrs McGregor was specially trained. It seems that these first twenty years are only the beginning.

Various educational support was provided by temporary or occasional visitors in a range of capacities. Music has always featured strongly in the school's curriculum and extra-curricular activities, for example, and from 1976 Mr Mason visited local pupils for instruction in various instruments, while the piano tuner was an annual visitor and the health of the school piano is carefully logged on each visit. A series of P.E. teachers and dance and drama instructors have also supported pupils over the years as have remedial and learning support specialists. In 1986 provision was made for a Gaelic teacher to attend one afternoon a week. Originally the post was filled by Miss Campbell and later Mr Finlay Cunninghame replaced her. This would have pleased the old compilers of the original Statistical Accounts who bemoaned the loss of the native tongue in the area. Unfortunately it did not last long.

As well as visiting teachers the school attracted the occasional foreign pupil visitor, following a tradition established from the time of the first statistical accounts, when scholars came from as far afield as the East Indies apparently. In 1978 it is recorded that four Australian children spent five months in Loch Awe and, though of differing ages, all attended Dalmally school. In 1981 three Dutch children, with no word of English at all, were enrolled. Unfortunately, their progress at the school is not recorded . In August 1986 there was also a brief visit by a German girl then staying with the local Keay family, who were themselves later to officially visit the school to donate a copy of their "Encyclopaedia of Scotland". This occasion was photographed by the Oban Times.

These were not the only memorable "foreign" visitors however. In 1984 Dr Sen Gupta and his wife made a notable visit to Dalmally. The chairman of Strathclyde's education committee had been impressed by project work done on India by Miss Walker's pupils at Bridge of Orchy and suggested this follow-up visit. Dalmally was felt to be a more suitable venue for the affair The doctor was based in Glasgow but was also a busy ambassador for inter-racial understanding in his capacity as president of the Bengali Association, and was very happy to attend Dalmally. The log records the special lunch prepared by catering staff (an alternative menu was specially bussed up from Argyll House in Dunoon) : "Dr and Mrs Sen Gupta arrived for lunch. This must surely be the only time that I shall have lunch at a school table set with a cloth, napkins etc. and have a choice of main course!" The Doctor gave an entertaining talk and film show, and he spent a lot of time with the pupils while his wife brought several beautiful saris to try on. Two younger pupils from Bridge of Orchy apparently performed a snake-charming act! In March 1987 Miss Ritchie, a missionary teacher in India, visited and in her honour Miss Olbrich dressed in the national costume of the country.

Other "foreign" visitors included a Mrs Johnson of the Commonwealth Institute back in 1976 who presented a slide show on rural Canada to pupils from Dalmally and Letterwood. In May 1988 two Welsh education inspectors visited on a fact-finding tour of rural schools. Then in May 1989 a Miss Larson and Miss Wilson-Millar, exchange teachers from the USA and Canada respectively, visited Dalmally. Hence, one can say, the influence and reputation of this small primary school has truly spread internationally. It is worth noting here too that, as a consequence of a long tradition of charity collection in the school, two Croatian guests spoke at an Open assembly in February 1996 on the situation in their homeland.

Other regular visitors have included the local police officers, among them P.C. Fulton, P.C. Gillespie and P.C. McIntyre, and local staff of the St. John's Ambulance service, as well as members of the S.P.C.A. and local vets such as Mr Bonniwell in 1990. These visits were both educational and very welcome by excited pupils who particularly loved the opportunity to examine the professional equipment on display.

Some of the most popular visitors have proved to be the professional or semi-professional performance companies that have helped foster a strong interest in the expressive arts in the school. Over the years links have been established with Scottish Opera, who performed "Nessie" in February 1986 and "A Day at the Races" in December 1988. In addition the Black Box Puppet Theatre Company have been regular visitors from the 1980s with various well-received shows. The Scottish Children's Theatre performed "Trudi and the Diamond" in 1989 and more recently Visible Fiction Theatre Company performed a dramatisation of "Bill's New Frock" to P.4-7 pupils in 1990. In march 1991 Ballet West held a dance workshop which was also attended by Ardchonnel pupils and in January 1996 another puppet company called Okay Dokay also performed in the school.

However not all visitors were quite so welcome, and two disturbing incidents are recorded in the Head Teacher's log in 1977 and 1978. "A Mr Darroch purporting to be from Glasgow appeared in the school kitchen about 11.30 am under the influence of drink. His manner was objectionable and I got rid of him quickly" Apparently this man had visited several schools in the area alleging that he was trying to enrol head teachers in the Association of Head Teachers of Scotland. No further details of this singular visitation are recorded. An even odder visitation occurred in 1978 when a Health Education show was scheduled for one evening in May. Since the janitor was unavailable on this occasion, Mrs Stevenson, then Head Teacher, was supervising and found herself faced with aggressive performers who "wanted to use every inch of the school" and who had "obviously been drinking before they arrived". The Oban police were summoned but not before cans of lager had done damage to school carpets, a general mess had been created, and the school had witnessed some unpleasantness.

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