The Rector’s Notes
These notes are a compilation of the introductory pages to recent editions of the Rector's Newsletter. Taken together, they provide a rich insight into all that makes each school year so special.
All at Dollar were delighted to welcome Brigadier Paul Harkness, Commander of the British Army in Scotland, to a recent senior school assembly. Brigadier Harkness has previously commanded British operations in Afghanistan and has served in Iraq; he has also been involved in the army’s three largest change management programmes of the past 20 years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he proved an outstanding speaker. He has met many Dollar cadets over the years while judging various competitions but his visit was to enable him to present limited-edition Commander’s Coins to our First Aid team following their triple success in the Scottish CCF championships, the British Championships, and the Grand Prior. In an inspiring address, he described Dollar cadets as consistently some of the best-trained and toughest school cadets he had met. He explained what he meant by “tough”; this was not a superficial veneer, he explained, but a deep emotional resilience best exemplified by calmness under pressure, never giving up, and a commitment to excellence.
That view of Dollar excellence echoed the comments of an eminent musician who attended our Easter Choral Concert the preceding week. He professed himself astonished by the calibre of the Chamber Choir in particular, and by the level of musicianship in general. This week I have also received some kind comments in a similar vein regarding the work of our Art Department and from those who attended the Senior School Play – an entertaining Stoppard double bill. I have to admit to being just as pleased, however, by the positive feedback I have had recently from some pupils in rugby and hockey B teams and by the fact that over 500 runners took part in our school cross-country event. The opportunity to push oneself to the limit is vital and is something that should be available to everyone. As the writer Goethe often argued, it is an integral part of human nature to strive for improvement and that is something that is very much encouraged at Dollar.
Nowhere is this more important than in the classroom and Dollar pupils and teachers work very hard in partnership with one another. The co-curricular highlights, carefully recorded on our website, in Fortunas, and indeed in newsletters like this, often grab the headlines and are a key part of a Dollar education, but much of the best work at Dollar goes on almost unseen, lesson by lesson and day by day, as good teachers make children think, solve, understand, appreciate and learn. From time to time I pause to consider whether we achieve the right balance between work and play. When I look at our Form VI pupils, however, I generally stop worrying. There is no Dollar mould, but they seem to turn out very well. I know the Brigadier would agree with me.
As I write, we are in the middle of the Christmas Dance season; these hugely enjoyable evenings are astonishingly well attended by cheerful girls in elegant gowns and by immaculately turned out boys who seem suddenly to have discovered that top buttons will do up after all. Dressing up can be fun. Some of our pupils are barely recognisable, with their new coiffures and jewellery, and many of the girls seem to have grown somewhat in height, although in most cases the heels are speedily removed after the dancing has started. I well remember attending such events myself as a boy and was surprised during my first year at Dollar that the “training” I had received in ceilidh dancing at Morrison’s had stuck with me so well. Of course, a huge amount of work goes into organising these evenings and this is undertaken by a wide variety of staff and senior pupils. They do so gladly, because the children enter into the spirit of the occasion so positively and strike the right balance between fun and courtesy. A great deal of learning at Dollar takes place outside the classroom.
The topic of immaculate appearance leads me nicely to the wonderful Christmas Concert at the Usher Hall. This is always a visual delight (and I know that for many of us the impressively synchronised standing-up and sitting-down is an integral part of the entertainment) but nothing really beats the wonderful music. The choirs, orchestra and jazz band all combined beautifully in a varied programme to ensure that the audience of over 1,500 had a night to remember. There were over 400 performers on stage, and everyone involved deserves our thanks and congratulations. Once again, an enormous amount of work goes on behind the scenes. I know everyone will agree that the result was more than worth the effort.
Our first ever Form IV Drama class set themselves a real challenge this term by choosing to attempt to perform Susan Hill’s Woman in Black, a play I have seen six times in the London West End - not always of my own volition but that’s another story. After much careful preparation, the class produced a truly excellent performance and I was hugely proud of their achievement, not that I had anything to do with it. Mr Russell was also delighted, which is more to the point. Following this, Form VI were also keen to demonstrate their prowess and their production of Tally’s Blood proved to be amusing, thought-provoking and moving. Drama is really thriving at Dollar and, again, much hard work is involved, but I don’t think I will risk another “behind the scenes” allusion here…
Finally, I have reported elsewhere on the success of the Sponsored Walk, particularly in my introduction to the newly-released Fortunas 32 which you should not miss (the magazine, not my introduction), but I am delighted to let you know that we have raised over £53,000 for our six nominated charities. This is a success that the whole school community can share in and is a further example of the way in which effort is not inseparable from having fun – or, as with our ceilidhs, from dressing up either.
I wish all pupils, parents, staff and friends of Dollar Academy a very happy Christmas and all the best for 2014.
Term is well under way and the wonderfully sunny summer seems well behind us. The excellent results achieved by our examination classes are not quite forgotten, but new targets have already been set and there is a very productive buzz around the school. Everyone seems very positively focused on what comes next. The production of this newsletter, however, ensures that there is a least one person looking backwards as well! There is certainly much to reflect on with pride.
The success achieved by our shooting team during their week at Bisley, the highlight of the shooting year, was genuinely astonishing. Quite how our pupils managed to defeat some of the most powerful English schools, with their greater opportunities to shoot on large outdoor ranges, no-one can be sure. I suspect it has something to do with hard work, the ability to concentrate, excellent tuition, a sense of teamwork, and a quiet determination born of humility. If it sounds as though I have been inspired by their feats, it is because I genuinely have. I was privileged to be present, along with our Chairman of Governors John Cameron, on the day that Dollar won the Ashburton Trophy for the second time; the only Scottish school to win the trophy in the last fifty years. In the process, Dollar finished as the leading Scottish school for the fifteenth year in succession and the number of trophies won by the team, both at Bisley and during the season as a whole, is far too long to list here. There is a fuller round-up on the school website.
As if inspired themselves, the Pipe Band followed up their third place in the World Championships in August with a first-ever win at the Cowal Gathering in the last of the season’s five ‘majors’. It was very well-deserved and all the more welcome given the gap since their last major win in summer 2011. Our new Novice Band also acquitted themselves well, finishing fifth in their category – just as they had at the World Championships. Following the win at Cowal, in accordance with tradition, the Bands marched along Academy Place and played at the front of the school, long after dark, on their return to Dollar. A large crowd of well over a hundred turned out to greet them, including most of our boarders and several recent FP band members who had picked up news of the win through social media. It was an impressive and moving occasion.
Team success is built upon positive relationships and the Form I Activities Day and disco, along with the Boarders’ Teambuilding Day and accompanying dinner, will certainly have helped in this regard. These events were great fun and both groups of pupils have made an excellent start to the new session.
Finally, I will look forward. Every two years, Dollar runs a Sponsored Walk during which the whole school, staff and pupils, takes to the hills for the day to raise money for charity. In 2011, over £50,000 was raised and we are hoping to equal or surpass that amount this time. The walk will take place, weather permitting, on Friday 27 September and I am really looking forward to it.
I wish everyone a busy, productive and enjoyable term.
The American writer Helen Keller once said “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” A simple enough statement perhaps, but if anyone knew the truth of it she did. Rendered deaf and blind at a young age, she truly appreciated the life-transforming benefits an inspiring teacher can bring.
At the end of the busiest week of the year, it is that sense of partnership and teamwork, so prevalent at Dollar, which seems to link everything that happens here.
Nowhere was this more evident than at the final night of Footloose! on Friday. The cast produced some wonderful singing, acting and dancing, the band played superbly, the backstage crew worked efficiently and the audience more than played their part. All the hours of hard work that go into producing a show of such high quality suddenly seemed entirely worthwhile. It must have been an inspiring production to be part of, but it was no less inspirational for the audience and I have no doubt everyone left with a smile on their face – especially when they remembered “Willard”. The Junior School musical, Beauty and the Beast, was also a very ambitious production and was undoubtedly a resounding success.
Despite the weather forecast, all three Sports Days ran smoothly thanks to a great deal of organisational teamwork by a large number of members of staff, particularly our PE department. The Prep Sports had the best of the weather and this event is, understandably, a real Dollar favourite. The charm of the “dressing-up race” is matched only by the drama of the “waiter’s race” and, this year, one very young waiter perfectly demonstrated the value of patience over impetuosity, mechanically trundling his way to the finish line with perfect balance and concentration, apparently oblivious to the chaos all around him as the other contenders spilled item after item. It was, undoubtedly, my favourite moment of the week.
The creativity of our excellent Art department is a real strength of the school and the wonderful exhibition of pupil work over Sports Weekend is always a pleasure to visit. The work produced is highly individualised, but the mutual support and encouragement our artists and designers give one another, and the ideas that are thereby generated, mean that the final portfolios owe a little more to teamwork than might be initially assumed.
I have no doubt that our Pipe Band instructors would agree that teamwork is the very essence of their success. As usual, a large audience gathered to watch Sunday’s annual display which contained a few unexpected new ideas that worked extremely well. I wish both Dollar bands every success in the summer competitions.
The last event to finish on Sports Weekend was the annual cricket match between the Rector’s XI and the 1st XI. The boys won on the last ball of the match, a fitting way to end one of the most successful cricket seasons in recent Dollar history. Following a last ball tie with Merchiston, the team successively beat Strathallan, The High School of Glasgow, Glenalmond, The High School of Dundee and George Watson’s College and, after defeating Gordonstoun last week, the team became joint winners of the Scottish Independent Schools 20/20 Cup. Many of their matches were won by the narrowest of margins and everyone played their part – Helen Keller may not have known much about cricket, but I like to think she would have approved.
The end of term is fast approaching and I wish all pupils, staff, parents and friends of the school a very enjoyable summer.
It is said that a picture paints a thousand words, a phrase I first heard expressed by that seventies cultural icon Telly Savalas. Since the arrival of the astro surface, one of the sights of summer term at Dollar Academy has been seeing all nine tennis courts choc-full of pupils every lunchtime and evening. It is wonderful to see so many girls playing, in all weathers, and we have been running as many teams as possible to encourage them.
Meanwhile our cricketers, despite the rain, have managed to play most of their games and the 1st XI match against Merchiston certainly proved that a good game of cricket is anything but boring. At the start of the last over Dollar needed four to win with the last pair at the crease – anything was possible. In the event the match finished in a thrilling tie, with both sides having made 106.
The photographs accompanying Bethan Scott’s excellent article in the news section of our website, describing her experiences of the joint hockey and rugby tour to South Africa, paint a very different picture to that of life in Dollar. They are worth seeing. On the field, the boys produced their best rugby of the season, finishing unbeaten in four matches, and the girls also excelled with their performances in a very high-quality tournament. More importantly our pupils conducted themselves extremely well and had a wonderful time both socially and educationally.
Words rather than pictures were the order of the day for those pupils involved in this year’s school play, Mary Queen of Scots got her head chopped off, and I have to say that they were brilliantly delivered by an excellent cast. This production, with its moving twist at the end, was unquestionably one of the best school plays I have seen. No less impressive was the music at our Spring concerts and all involved can feel proud of their efforts.
Having attended several rehearsals over recent weeks, I am already looking forward to attending the Senior School musical, Footloose. If it has one advantage over Cats, it is that we will save a good deal on money on costumes this year! Debate has been raging amongst the cast over whether the 1984 original film is better than the 2011 remake, with the original winning comfortably. Tickets are already selling quickly (details are on our website) and with its combination of music, dance, acting and humour this will truly be a show with something for all the family.
Finally, having focused on co-curricular activity in this newsletter, I should compliment our senior pupils on the industrious atmosphere around the school at the moment. I wish them all the best of luck in their SQA examinations.
Dollar has been looking particularly stunning this past two weeks, with wonderful sunshine and snow-capped hills. Much as we all love our beautiful surroundings, it does not seem to discourage our teachers and pupils from venturing further afield. Our senior rugby and hockey squads are excited about their tour to South Africa at Easter, while some of our linguists are looking forward to the very successful annual exchanges to Ulmen in Germany, Clères in France and Toledo in Spain. In February, a group of keen Geographers spent some time in the USA and I have to admit to being quite jealous when I saw the photographs. I noted with mild concern that the itinerary included both Alcatraz prison and Death Valley and was therefore keen to discover from Mr McConnell whether the trip had a “theme”; I need not have worried and San Francisco and Las Vegas will no doubt have cheered everyone up afterwards.
School trips can live long in the memory and the Battlefields Tour is one that our pupils rarely forget. This year’s trip was as successful as ever and I would urge everyone to read the wonderful article on the school website with accompanying moving photographs. Back in Blighty our debating teams have recently been performing (with their usual success) at Oxford and Durham Universities, both picturesque places to visit.
All of which brings us back to Scotland. Last week, 80 Junior 2 pupils enjoyed canoeing, abseiling, gorge walking, caving and other activities on their residential trip to Benmore, near Dunoon. Additionally, our curling team competed in the Scottish Schools Curling finals at Murrayfield Ice Rink and our rugby and hockey Sevens teams all reached the semi-finals of the annual George Heriot’s tournament.
I was talking recently with an eminent visitor who had attended our Form VI Burns Supper earlier in the term, at which he was so impressed with the conversation and demeanour of our senior pupils that it would, he stated, be impossible for any adult to attend such a function and not wish to send their child to Dollar Academy. I have to say that I felt much the same myself after watching a number of recent school events including the cross-country competitions, the Junior Science Fair and the two outstanding Spring Concerts. The following weekend then encompassed hockey, rugby and two Pipe Band competitions (in which our new Novice Band particularly distinguished themselves) and this week brings the excitement of the Senior School Play which will tell us something we already know, that “Mary Queen of Scots got her head chopped off”, in entertaining fashion.
Of course, I may well be more biased than our Burns Supper visitor, but any time I am in any doubt about the wonders of Dollar Academy I just look out of the window at the hills. Before I get carried away, however, I should admit that one of our pupils on his return from the Geography trip pointed out that even Alcatraz is in a beautiful location!
As I climbed into a taxi last week, the local driver was quick to ask me whether I had jinxed the school, suggesting that due to a lack of heating Dollar had recently been closed for the first time in its history. Keen to dissuade him from considering me a woolly liberal, I pointed out that this was not the only time in its 195 year history that the Academy has been closed, although it has indeed been a fairly rare occurrence. The most obvious occasion was in 1961 due to the Thursday night fire that destroyed the interior of the Playfair Building, although it is an impressive fact that only one school day was missed and school resumed on the Monday. There was also an early finish to the day relatively recently due to high winds. Our archivist would be interested to hear from any of our older FPs aware of other occasions of closure. I did learn something from the experience, not least that modern day Health and Safety guidelines indicate that teachers should not normally teach, nor children learn, in temperatures much below 16˚C. On the day in question, temperatures in many rooms in the school were considerably less than half of that. As readers may know, a farmer carrying out drainage work sliced through a mains gas pipe cutting off supplies to several thousand houses in the Dollar area, though I did hear a comment (from another farmer admittedly) that it was the old Gas Board drawings that were at fault! The Academy is predominantly heated by gas and, while back-up solutions have been considered, alternatives are prohibitively expensive so it is to be hoped that this was a unique event.
Despite the low temperatures there has been much to warm our hearts recently, not least the wonderful Christmas Concert in the Usher Hall in Edinburgh last week. Over 450 pupils took part in a musical performance of the highest quality in front of an audience of around 1,700. The programme was varied, but the centrepiece was a very entertaining and moving performance of the brilliant Stella Natalis by Karl Jenkins. All involved deserve congratulation.
Public performance is always encouraged at Dollar and those who took part in the recent Form VI and Form III plays were also rightly rewarded with warm applause. High quality public-speaking by pupils was just as evident at the CCF Dining-in-Night and the Form VI Dinner. Equally brave were the catwalk models, male and female, who took part in Dollar’s first fashion show, held by Art and Design pupils in Form III. The CCF inspection was a parade of a different nature, but equally impressive in its own, much more formal, way.
A more low-key, but just as delightful, occasion is the annual Charities Committee Coffee Morning for Dollar Senior Citizens at which the Chamber Choir sing a mix of Christmas music. There was an audience of over a hundred and many described it as a key event in their Christmas schedule. To no-one’s surprise, the choir sang beautifully.
Perhaps most heart-warming of all, however, is the long list of successful charities events and voluntary work, described inside this newsletter, that have already taken place this session. A Dollar education is a privilege not to be underestimated and it is always good to see our youngsters helping others; they usually learn much themselves in the process. Even my local taxi driver would approve.
The summer holiday already seems a distant memory and it is good to be back in school, surrounded by the energy and enthusiasm of our pupils. Education has much to do with preparation for the future, but enjoyment of the present should never be forgotten and it is always a pleasure to see them enjoying the wide range of experiences that Dollar has to offer.
Memory is a notoriously unreliable mental faculty, but mine suggests it rained every day in July and August. This caused our contractors to struggle to finish the work they undertook, remodelling the area around the front gates, before the start of the term. The result was worth the wait, however, and has received widespread approval, as much for the aesthetic improvement as for its contribution to safety. Less visibly, around 60 km of IT cabling has been laid and the benefits should eventually be seen in terms of the speed and reliability of our network.
The introduction of Mandarin is already proving successful, with many Form VI pupils electing to study a module in the language or in Chinese culture or both. I have no doubt that many of these pupils will find that this has been of benefit at some point in their future working lives, as well as being intrinsically interesting. We have expanded our Form VI provision this session and modules in Psychology and Philosophy have also been popular, combining well as they do with the wide mix of Highers and Advanced Highers being taken for university entrance. As always, Home Economics (perhaps better entitled “pre-university cooking”) is the most well-frequented module. How wise our pupils are.
For the first time for some years our boarding houses are full, and in fact were over-subscribed this session. Our new arrivals seem to have settled very well and once again we were lucky with the weather for our team challenge on the second Sunday of term. The afternoon’s events were followed by a semi-formal dinner that was enjoyed by all. Another positive memory in the bank I hope.
Rugby and hockey spectators appear to be enjoying the free tea and coffee on offer on Saturday mornings, not to mention the stunning balcony view from the Boys’ Pavilion. All of our spectators, whether parents, pupils or FPs, are very much appreciated and help make Saturday mornings a great occasion.
On the subject of sport, I was delighted that the Glasgow FP Club decided to hold its 100th annual golf competition at Dollar Golf Club this year, rather than in Glasgow. There was an excellent turn-out and our FPs enjoyed coffee and bacon rolls at the Academy before teeing off. They also insisted on a short tour of the school and were astonished by the transformation of the old Gym into the new Sixth Form Centre. Many were visibly moved by once again standing in the Assembly Hall and looking out through the windows to the beautiful Ochil Hills. Their memories of Dollar seemed very happy ones, although I had better not recount here some of the stories they told me!
Watching our senior pupils studying quietly for their examinations in the Library, in the Sixth Form Centre, or elsewhere in the school is a surprisingly heart-warming experience. Whether working singly or in groups, there is a genuine sense of togetherness and mutual support, and several visitors have commented very positively on the overall atmosphere. The weather too has ensured that there has been little opportunity to relax by sunbathing on the lawns around the school.
The Easter holiday seems a long time ago, but it would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity to thank our teachers for the time and effort that they put into running so many successful trips over the break. Well over 100 pupils took part in the ski trip to Les Menuires and Mr Lumsden seems to have taken the view that the best way to ensure good behaviour was to provide so much activity that everyone was exhausted by bedtime – a wise strategy. I confess to having taken a similar approach when running school trips myself over the years.
The rugby trip to Padua in Italy was equally successful, although unfortunately the weather was such that our boys must at times have felt they were playing in Dollar. They won all three matches but, as usual, had as much fun off the field as on. Further south in Rome, the weather was much better for our classicists who spent a wonderful five days in the eternal city.
Our History and Modern Studies department travelled even further afield and 17 pupils spent nine days in Cuba on a visit that they all subsequently described as amazing. There can be few places in the world as fascinating to visit at the moment and, if you have not already done so, I recommend a visit to the news section of our website to learn more and to see the photographs. The excellent Modern Languages trip to Clères in France provides an equally good read and the 30 Form I and II pupils who took part thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Having thanked the teachers, I should now thank our pupils. Their behaviour, attitude and intellectual curiosity make them excellent travelling companions. One of the reasons we run so many trips is that teachers genuinely enjoy their company.
I am very aware in writing this piece that such trips are optional extras and that most families have to prioritise their expenditure carefully. We try hard to ensure value for money and, in the current climate, to be responsible; the rugby trip could have gone to South Africa rather than Italy for example, but I am not convinced that the camaraderie and spirit would have been improved by a more exotic location.
If there is one trip that no-one should miss, it is to the Alhambra Theatre in Dunfermline next month to see our summer musical Cats. I had forgotten just how much a feature of the show the dancing is and the cast could not be working harder. Two rugby players have confessed to me that they now feel fitter than during the winter – I have had to promise not to reveal their names to Messrs Newton and Moffat. There is a wealth of musical talent in the school at present and my regular visits to rehearsals have persuaded me to purchase tickets for all four nights….although admittedly my better half is currently unaware of my largesse.
Many years ago, I knew all the words to The Tremeloes hit Silence is Golden. My parents played that record a good deal. Silence is not really something I instinctively associate with Dollar Academy however and, judging from the Junior School Burns Competition, some of our pupils could talk - or at least recite - for Scotland. Verse after verse was performed brilliantly by the entrants. The judges had an unenviable task and I was very relieved to be present only as an impartial observer.
The following day I was walking along a corridor after school when I happened upon one of the longest queues I have yet seen at Dollar. It turned out to be a large group of thespians waiting patiently for audition material for this year’s Senior School play, Pride and Prejudice. I am looking forward to it already, but I trust the cast have no intention of trying to match the dramatic shrieks and cries of the young actors and actresses in this week’s Form II play, Room 13. Mr Darcy’s moody silences will be a welcome respite.
Following the visits last term of Scottish rugby legends Chris Paterson and Gregor Townsend to conduct coaching clinics, ex-Samoa international Freddie Tuilagi arrived in Dollar on the morning of the Calcutta Cup match to take a session with our Junior School players. Freddie needed to say relatively little: his torso and biceps were sufficient to command instant respect from the boys and his coaching drills focused very simply and effectively on basic skills – something Scotland’s players struggled with later the same day. There are occasions when too much talk can get in the way of productive activity, but Freddie had the balance exactly right.
On the other hand, there are times when only talk will do, all of which brings me to Ruth Cameron. Following a wonderful run of debating success, during which she and Calum Worsley (both Form VI) won no end of prestigious university-run competitions, Ruth was selected for the Scotland team at the 2012 World Schools Debating Championships in South Africa. This was her second world championship having, with Calum, taken part in the 2011 event in the slightly less glamorous location of Dundee (I realise that there will be readers who disagree with this proposition). Ruth played a key role in Scotland’s ultimate success and, in the final, was required to debate in favour of the proposition that “This house regrets South Africa's decision to use the Truth and Reconciliation Commission rather than prosecuting perpetrators of crimes committed under Apartheid”. Backed by an enthusiastic South African crowd, her heartfelt and moving delivery received a prolonged ovation with many of the audience being reduced to tears. The team manager, a lawyer, wrote to us last week describing it as the best speech he had ever heard. He added that he had been even more impressed, at the conclusion of all this, when Ruth had rather nervously asked (in typical Dollar fashion I would suggest) whether her speech had been “OK”. He was too moved to reply. Sometimes, silence really is golden.
The eighteenth century clergyman Sydney Smith wrote that “the thing about performance, even if it's only an illusion, is that it is a celebration of the fact that we do contain within ourselves infinite possibilities.” I have always been a believer in the value of public performance and Dollar provides myriad opportunities for just that.
Our under-16 rugby team was defeated, but not disgraced, in the final of the Scottish Schools’ Cup at Murrayfield. After a first-half pummelling, many a team would have given up trying. Their outstanding second-half performance, though not enough to affect the result, was a triumph of character and teamwork. Nor should they forget the wonderful victories against Merchiston and The High School of Glasgow that ensured they reached the final and shared in a wonderful occasion.
It was gratifying that our supporters outnumbered the opposition’s at Murrayfield, despite the fact that we had somewhat further to travel. I was delighted to see so many recent FPs in the crowd. We perhaps had less to sing about than Watson’s, given the score, but the strains of “Will Your Anchor Hold” rang out clearly and one of our young international boarders was sufficiently keen to get the words right that he took his hymn book with him to the match!
Our biennial Sponsored Walk, a thirteen mile trek through the Ochils, was very much a whole-school performance and it was good to see such great commitment by so many. It was a truly impressive occasion, one of the most enjoyable events I have taken part in (yes, I did manage the distance). We were blessed with beautiful weather and a sum of over £56,000 was raised for five different charities. I would like to thank all parents, and all other sponsors, for their tremendous support.
Last month Dollar hosted the RSPBA Piping Quartet and Trio competitions and the success of our pipers is described elsewhere. More importantly, many compliments were received regarding the organisation of the event, and particularly regarding the manners of the many Dollar pupils who helped out on the evening.
Dollar also recently hosted a national exhibition of Art and Design excellence, showcasing some of the best work from last session’s Advanced Higher submissions. Over 600 teachers and pupils from all over Scotland attended the weekend event, the first of its kind, which also included workshops and demonstrations. An inspiring occasion, it reflected great credit on the young artists of the nation. The Art Department at Dollar received considerable praise for putting it all together so well.
Finally, after last year’s snow, we were all delighted that the Christmas Concert at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh proved to be such an outstanding success. An audience of 1,700 watched over four hundred children give the performance of a lifetime. The programme was beautifully balanced and the staging was visually spectacular, but it was the quality of the sound, and the teamwork involved, that really captured the audience. Even Sydney Smith would have been impressed.
After a long, and rather rainy, summer, it was a delight to return to school and sense the buzz of energy that comes with a new school year. Every session is different, just as every class we teach is different, and one of the pleasures of teaching, in contrast to parenting perhaps, is that much as we miss those who leave us to go off to university, they are constantly replaced by bundles of energy lower down the school. Their enthusiasm certainly helps keep us young in spirit.
In my start-of-term e-mail to parents, I paid tribute to the excellent results of our examination candidates this year. Closer study reveals that not only was the percentage of passes at Grade A at Higher a new school record, but also that the “presentation rate” in Form V was an average of 4.9 Highers per candidate, one of the highest in Scotland. Dollar does not discourage pupils from taking examinations purely to protect league table positions. It is a pleasure to see these pupils, now in Form VI, continuing to challenge themselves and making the most of this vital year of university preparation.
Examination success is important, but not everyone gets straight A grades and flies into Edinburgh, St Andrews and the like. There are many routes to success in life and this is something we continue to emphasise. Our Art and Music departments are exceptional and co-curricular opportunity is a vital part of our programme. The list of clubs, activities and meetings I am asked to advertise in assembly at the start of the year is truly astonishing. Our teachers do a wonderful job in this respect and I am sure the children appreciate it.
I am pleased to note that boarding numbers have increased significantly this year, and our new boarders seem to be settling in very happily. The weather for our team challenge afternoon was pleasingly sunny and the formal dinner that followed appeared to satisfy, for a short while at least, the tired and hungry. Just two hours later, I watched a couple of boarders (both keen rugby players) demolish a prodigious quantity of toast and pasta back at the boarding house!
Finally, I am delighted to learn that, although I have now completed a full year at Dollar, there are still some new events for me to experience for the first time. One of these is the biennial sponsored walk, so expertly organised by Mr Daniel and his team.. Our Form VI Charities Committee has put a lot of thought into choosing deserving causes and I am looking forward to taking part in this whole school activity. Weather permitting, of course…
I wish everyone a busy, productive and enjoyable term.
June 2011 - A week in the life…
The day begins with a flying visit to Prep 4 classes: they are all in costumes representing famous Scots. Three Eric Liddells greet me at the door, giving the impression that I have stumbled into a 1924 Prep School Sports Day. I avoid a rather fierce looking Greyfriars Bobby and chat instead with Sir Walter Scott and Flora MacDonald. After lunch I watch a few high quality presentations at the Dragons’ Den event, where Mr Fulton appears to be the chief dragon. Later, lessons have just finished for the day when Becky Keely and Veselina Petrova burst in through my door. Becky edits The Galley; it has just scooped five firsts at the annual Scottish School Magazine Awards, including the top prize, the Magazine of the Year.
The Summer Ball for Form VI leavers consists of an excellent dinner at which I am seated with our wonderful “Top Six” consisting of the Head Boy and Head Girl along with their respective pairs of Deputies. Better company would be hard to find. The food is excellent and is followed by a brilliant Ceilidh with music provided by the Baltik Ceilidh Band, led by FP Tom Adamson. Dani Barrett is short of a partner for Strip the Willow and I get more than I bargained for; the dance seems to go on and on. Dani glides through her moves while I am left reeling in every sense of the word. At least I fare better than Mr Lindsay, who is forced to retire early with a knee injury. A wonderful time is had by all and Dr Johnson, Chemistry teacher and munitions expert, insists that the cloud and light drizzle have provided ideal conditions for viewing the fireworks. Following the Ball, the sixteen pupils who comprise the “College of Cardinals” are entrusted with the final round of voting for next session’s Top Six. The result is declared just after midnight and there are hugs all round.
Our two pipe bands perform brilliantly at Fettes in the Scottish Schools CCF Championships. The A band win the competition comfortably, for the twelfth successive year, but without a trace of arrogance. They are merely delighted, and relieved, to have contributed to Dollar’s continuing success. Remarkably, but perhaps not entirely surprisingly given their recent improvement, our B band finish third. What must the other schools think? Dollar wins prizes in ten of the fourteen events, with Lucy Ferguson winning best piper. Even more impressively, Matthew Orr accepts a surprise decision in the Drum Major category with typical Dollar dignity, despite his disappointment. On their return to Dollar, the two bands parade up the Burnside and then through Academy Place in warm evening sunshine in front of over a hundred supporters, including most of our boarders. An unforgettable occasion.
I deliver speeches of welcome in the Assembly Hall and then the Auditorium to sets of new pupils and their parents; it is our Open Day. We are blessed by sunshine. In the evening I watch the dress rehearsal of We Will Rock You at the macrobert theatre; even I can tell it is going to be a smash hit.
After conducting interviews for a new teacher, I join Prep 1 and Form VI at the annual Teddy Bears’ Picnic. My own bear proves popular and is certainly of more interest to the Prep 1 pupils than I am.
Becky Keely speaks brilliantly in Assembly, congratulating Mr McFarlane on his imminent retirement after 31 years of teaching at Dollar. She is humorous and moving. Mr McFarlane is equally witty and emotional, if less politically correct, and believes his final year to have been his most enjoyable one. Perhaps his memory is failing. At lunchtime, a falconry display attracts a large crowd. Later that evening at the macrobert, I realise I have underestimated the musical and the word “smash” fails to do it justice. It is a common cliché to write that a school musical is “of a professional standard”. This is clearly far better than that.
The Prep School Sports afternoon is bathed in sunshine and the whole event is brilliantly marshalled by Mrs Adamson. My favourite event is the “dressing-up race” in which no one seems to mind whether cardigans are being worn back to front or not. Still enraptured by the musical, I manage to get round the fact that the tickets have sold out by persuading Mr McGonigle to let me watch from the wings. There is no point in having influence if you don’t use it…
I begin this newsletter and write the lines above. I decide to include all the fun bits and leave out that which is more routine. I will be attending the Junior School Sports this afternoon and will be back at the musical for the final performance tonight. Sports Weekend commences tomorrow; I am keeping my fingers crossed for decent weather but, following a quick check on the internet, I place my umbrella and boots in the porch. Whatever the weather, it should be both busy and enjoyable.
I should like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy summer.
The summer term began with two weeks of continuous warm sunshine and with some distinctive Dollar sounds. The rousing, and hugely uplifting, skirl of pipes and drums in the mornings seemed perfectly balanced by the gentler noises of willow on leather and string on tennis ball in the afternoons and, in between, there was a happy hubbub of pupils chatting while sitting on the lawns in small circles, devouring their lunch.
Idyllic though it may have seemed from a distance, I have always felt that the summer term is probably more enjoyable for teachers than for pupils – or for those pupils in examination classes at least. I wish all of our candidates every success. My advice in assembly was rather simplistic: worry about fitting in enough revision, but don’t worry about the results. You can only do your best – and should only do your best.
Pupils, like adults, tend to make invidious comparisons at results time, basing much of their self-worth on comparisons with their peers. Parents may have a useful role to play here in encouraging their children to think positively about their own achievements.
Life at Dollar is about more than academic attainment and, given our beautiful location, it is pleasing to see such high numbers taking part in our Duke of Edinburgh’s Award programme. Participation is entirely voluntary, but a staggering 131 member of Form III are currently taking their Bronze Award, with all Bronze expeditions taking place in the Ochils. One of the groups is pictured overleaf. We also have 77 pupils taking Silver and 43 taking Gold; next month there will be expeditions to some of the most remote, and attractive, areas of Scotland.
Finally, returning to the theme of sounds, my occasional visits to watch the rehearsals for this year’s summer musical have succeeded in bringing back memories of my own teenage years. I can still remember a friend being obsessed by Bohemian Rhapsody and returningtoMorrison’s, after the summer holidays, with hair like Brian May. Bets were laid, during the bus journey from Dunblane, on how long he would last before being sent home. I cannot remember the name of the winner, but the carefully calculated time was definitely less than twenty minutes. More pertinently, rehearsals for We Will Rock You are going well (that’s my opinionand not necessarily Mr McGonigle’s) and the final performance of the show is already sold out. Tickets are available directly from the macrobert theatre.
As I write, I have just finished watching a truly impressive sporting occasion, perhaps one of the most spectacular sights I have seen since my arrival in Dollar. The event was the Dollar Academy cross-country run in which over 400 competitors took part. A few days ago I received an email from Mr Newton which contained a map of the course. Marked on the map were words like ditch, wall, burn and bog. Contour lines were remarkably close together: those of you who can remember your school Geography will know that this indicates steep hills. I immediately forwarded the email to former colleagues in London under the heading “Now that’s a cross-country.” It certainly beats a few laps around the rugby pitches.
The line up at the start of the races, with all the competitors in their quint shirts and accompanying face paint, was something to behold and I really do suggest that you keep the date free in your diary next year and come along and watch. The runners disappeared into the distance and in the intermediate and senior boys’ events they reappeared about twenty minutes later, half way up the hill side. For the more Health and Safety conscious among you, I should point out that it was extremely well-organised by our very efficient P.E. department and all risk assessment forms were properly completed. Several teachers spent a good hour and a half in the wind and rain at different checkpoints on the course ensuring the event ran smoothly.
I suspect that few schools in Britain today would have “bothered” with such an event. One of the many special features of Dollar is that our staff not only understand the vital role that the co-curricular programme has to play in developing young people, but give generously of their time to support it. This is a two-sided process however, and Dollar parents appear to be the sort who encourage their children to take full advantage of what is on offer. Considering that participation in the cross-country event was voluntary, the high turn-out was remarkable.
The Great Fire in the Playfair Building took place on 24 February 1961 and we commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of this event on the corresponding date. Many lessons were themed around the topic of “fire” – easier in some subjects than others. An excellent exhibition, put together by our archivist Mrs Janet Carolan, proved very popular and the photos and text are on the school website. On the same day we formally opened our latest facility, the new Sixth Form Centre. The intervening fifty years have seen a good deal of high quality development at the Academy: our latest addition is no exception and will help us to continue to provide an exceptional pre-university experience in Form VI.
With university preparation in mind, it is noticeable that there has been much interest in boarding recently, perhaps in part due to the investment we have recently made in facilities and staffing. We were delighted that the recent Care Commission report awarded Dollar its top grade and our free boarding tasters have been over-subscribed. We will therefore be offering further boarding taster opportunities after Easter.
The recent extreme weather has been very much a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the natural beauty of our local landscape was considerably enhanced by the snow, which also provided opportunities for sledging, snowballing and play. School was enlivened, for those who could get here, by polka-dot wellies, multi-coloured hoodies and very fashionable headgear, while some pupils made new friends and met new teachers as classes were conjoined. On the other hand, many people were hugely inconvenienced and planned events had to be cancelled, including some of the Christmas dances and, of course, the Christmas Concert at the Usher Hall.
Through all of this, the Dollar spirit shone. The fewer pupils present in assembly, the better they seemed to sing. Everyone appeared to be cheerful. Whatever you may have read about teacher absence in the national press, ours made strenuous efforts to attend and taught their classes well.
A good example of the rallying round that took place was the Form III and IV Dance. Thirty-six hours before the event only eighteen tickets had been sold. Given the slight thaw and the increased numbers in school, the decision was made to go ahead. In the end over 250 pupils attended (almost 90% of the two year groups) and both teachers and Form VI were present in large numbers to help out. It was a wonderful evening and said much about the sense of teamwork between staff and pupils, such an important feature of Dollar. I include parents in this mix, and I would like to thank you for all your support this term.
As I write, I have just returned from the Sunday morning Parish Church service at which our Chamber Choir sang the carols beautifully and Head Girl Nicole Abel read perfectly. This evening I will be attending the boarders’ Christmas Ceilidh and Dinner. On Friday, I danced the Dashing White Sergeant at the Prep 4 and 5 Christmas Party and was surprised that I remembered most of the steps from my own schooldays, though not as surprised as I was to see Mrs Adamson dressed as a Christmas tree and our Head of Physics dressed as Santa. There are several other seasonal events scheduled for the final week. For those of us who spend a lifetime in the teaching profession, these events are part of the natural cycle of the year (admittedly along with writing reports and UCAS references) and are imprinted on our consciousness as the normal way of things. It is hard to imagine life without them – or the accompanying exhaustion. All being well, you can expect to find me, post retirement and well into my dotage, trying to gatecrash a school carol concert or sneak into the back of a church to hear an end of term service.
I wish all pupils, parents, staff and friends of Dollar Academy a very happy Christmas and all the best for 2011.
As I stood in front of the beautiful War Memorial last Sunday morning, during the Dollar Academy Remembrance Sunday Parade, snow was clearly visible on the top of the hills. Winter is rushing towards us and while the days may be getting shorter, they are no less busy.
The Academy’s pupils have been working hard in lessons, but there is no doubt that they have been enjoying their fair share of merriment too. The Junior School Hallowe’en party was a scream, with some brilliant outfits on display. Cheerfully organised by the excellent Form VI Charities Committee, the apple dooking and doughnut grab competitions were as loud as they were chaotic, and the noise of the accompanying disco echoed across the grounds.
The Form VI Dinner was a very special occasion and was attended by almost the entire year group, as well as several staff and governors. This year’s guest was FP Alex Kitz, a young Canadian political speechwriter who had previously worked on the Obama campaign. He had spent just one year at Dollar, in Form VI, but it had obviously affected him greatly and he explained that he feels more affection for Dollar than for any other educational institution he has attended. He gave an inspirational speech about the importance of ethics in influencing decision making, both professionally and personally. His positive, enthusiastic, yet hard-hitting approach was inspiring and was certainly appreciated by his young audience.
Band Night proved remarkably successful, although it may be a good thing that this is not an event open to parents. A mix of talent and courage was on display, and most of the performers proved very adept at working a crowd; the atmosphere was only marginally less hyped than the Hallowe’en party. The Year Book Committee deserves huge thanks for its excellent organisation.
The boarders thoroughly enjoyed the Argyll House Oktoberfest, which brought both the cuisine and the fashion of Munich to Dollar. Boarders have also enjoyed theatre and cinema visits and their trip to the All Blacks game at Murrayfield was enlivened by the good fortune of having seats behind Gabby Logan’s BBC studio. They were clearly visible on television, leaping up and down to music of The Fratellis, while Gabby was conducting her interviews. I have resisted their requests for a marketing budget.
Having mentioned sport, I should pay tribute to the First XI Girls’ Hockey team which won the Scottish Boarding Schools Championships in October. Dollar hosted the event for the first time this year and the new Astroturf pitch provided a fitting venue.
Finally, the long-awaited opening of the new Sixth Form Centre is at last upon us. It is a stunning facility and brings us a little closer to our long-term goal of producing a full set of buildings and facilities that inspire. We certainly have the setting, and the autumnal colours of the last few weeks would match, to my mind at least, any landscape in the world.
For children of all ages, the start of a new session always brings with it a sense of excitement and change as they meet new teachers, new classmates and new challenges. It is much the same for teachers. The feeling is accentuated when one joins a new school, and I have not been immune to this myself. More than anything else, I have been struck by the generosity of the welcome I have received and I would like to thank all the teachers, pupils and parents I have met for their friendly and positive approach.
Youngsters are not always quick to notice physical changes in buildings, but the boarders at both Heyworth and Argyll were delighted with the refurbished facilities they discovered on their return. Their reaction indicated that the Bursar had impressed his target audience. The boarders have also hugely enjoyed the range of weekend activities that have been organised for them: especially last weekend’s mini-games competition in Crieff. Throwing the welly was the least glamorous, but most fun, of the tasks accomplished. This was followed by their first formal dinner of the year.
All our pupils and visitors will have noticed the new steps in front of the Playfair building. They are made of the highest quality Crosland Hill Hard York Stone and will slowly weather over the years to match the stonework of the beautiful building behind. The quality of workmanship is excellent and is a tribute to traditional craftsmanship. Modern day education is so focussed on the notion of “transferable skills” that it is rather nice to be reminded from time to time of the alternatives that exist.
The children in the Prep and Junior Schools have been enjoying their newly landscaped play areas and the new car parking area in Mylne Avenue has helped create safer, more practical, collection arrangements. This area is also being carefully landscaped, to ensure its sympathetic integration into the environment, and the opportunity has been taken to create an area of wild flower meadow in part of the area, which we hope will provide opportunities for our scientists and ecologists. Quality and creativity have been the watchwords.
As I write, the new Sixth Form Centre is taking shape. I have been very impressed with the maturity and confidence of the many Form VI pupils I have met and they fully deserve this new facility, which will further enhance their final year. If the current Form 6 is typical of the pupils Dollar turns out, then this school is certainly far more than an examination factory. I am prepared to agree however, that some credit must lie with their parents!
Be all that as it may, we are all very aware here that the chief focus of the Academy is on teaching and learning and the excellent SQA results achieved by our pupils this summer is one indicator of our success. Results in Form VI at Advanced Higher were particularly good with over half of all passes being at grade A. Higher and Intermediate results were also very good and, while our pupils can be pleased with their excellent results, it has been impressive to see so many getting back to business so promptly at the start of term, rather than resting on their laurels. There is nothing wrong with aspiration, ambition or hard work.
There will always be a time for play however, and I have been amazed by the wide range of co-curricular activity on offer. Every senior school pupil should be involved in something. I am reminded of a wartime Headmaster who regularly dismissed his pupils from assembly by co-curricular activity. Anyone left in the Hall at the end was signed up on the spot to run the school’s pig farm. In advance of a deluge of letters from local farmers, I should point out that this was in fact quite a popular activity, and certainly a very valuable one.
I wish everyone a busy, productive and enjoyable term.