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Harry Wylie

Headteacher who piloted comprehensive education in Glasgow

Headteacher who piloted comprehensive education in Glasgow

Born: March 22, 1911; Died: June 7, 2014

HARRY WYLIE, who has died aged 103, was a teacher who was in the forefront of change to modern mathematics in schools and piloted comprehensive education in Glasgow. As a headteacher he encouraged by example, widening learning to prepare each pupil to use their strengths to maximise their contribution in the wider world.

He was the son of an engineer living in Riddrie and completed his schooling at Whitehill Secondary before graduating MA at the University of Glasgow. He completed teacher training at Jordanhill College of Education.

His approach to teaching was different and, in the words of Iain White, until recently headteacher at Govan High School, was a visionary in his working life. He taught mathematics first at Hillhead High School, then City Public and finally Albert Secondary.

He joined The Scottish Mathematics Group and, with five other teachers, wrote a new text book, Modern Mathematics for Schools, which changed the way the subject was taught. The book was translated into other languages and sold around the world. Never ambitious and constantly challenging the establishment to promote change, it came as a surprise when royalties appeared for the book. The concept of profit from a text book created a conflict in his thinking. Text books should be cheap to minimise the barrier to learning.

In the mid-1960s he was promoted back to City Public School in Townhead as headmaster. This was a small inner-city school and he was tasked with running a pilot scheme to deliver comprehensive education by timetabling to give each pupil the choice of subjects to match their ability. Spreadsheets, pencil and rubber, a mathematician's brain, knowledge of each pupil's strengths and hours of work achieved a result which became the framework for secondary school timetables today.

His final school was Govan High School, which had been gutted by fire. He was given the job of integrating four schools into the new building - four turbulent years before he retired with the job done. The last years of his teaching life were spent at Jordanhill Teacher Training College lecturing graduates on how to run a successful school.

Discipline in his classes, and then in schools, was not a significant problem. In a note to his staff at City Public School, he said: "We should, by every possible means, attempt to create more enthusiasm, more pride in our school, more interest in the school and in the world outside. If we can achieve this, problems of discipline will disappear except for a few who need special psychological treatment."

He rented The Turner, a farm near Gartmore, bought a mini bus and took staff and children from school each Saturday. They all wore old clothes and worked together on the farm. After lunch they went for a walk looking for birds and animals never seen in towns. They picked brambles, damsons and crab apples in the autumn. The barriers between teachers and pupils were broken down. He had achieved his goal to create a family attitude in the school maintaining respect both ways between staff and pupils.

His philosophy of education was very much ahead of his time. He called it The Art of Living. His interest was in educating the whole child and not just delivering the academic aspects. Not content with only improving staff/ pupil relationships, he also realised the importance of involving parents in the life of the school and was a founding member and the first chairman of the Council of Parent-Teacher Associations in Scotland.

It was the pupil/teacher relationship that was so important to him. Just after the Second World War, a group of teachers developed the Glasgow Schools Rowing Association. His enthusiasm and encouragement was recognised and he was elected president in 1953 for three years. With 800 boys regularly turning out on Saturday, it was another opportunity to work closely with the pupils outside the classroom. As a boy he started rowing during his holidays at Millport which developed into competitive rowing at university and he kept up daily exercise on his rowing machine until a few months before he died. He was delighted to be invited to be an honorary vice president of the Scottish Amateur Rowing Association, now Scottish Rowing.

He always enjoyed music. He played the violin and piano and often sang. With some friends from the Glasgow Schools Orchestra, they got together in the Unitarian Church in St Vincent Street where he helped to found the Unitarian Youth Orchestra in 1958. When his granddaughters Judith and Yvonne were playing the violin they joined the Milngavie and Bearsden Youth Orchestra and their father helped with the organisation of practice sessions and concerts. He was delighted to become their honorary president. This orchestra is now known as the Bearsden and Milngavie Youth Orchestra or BMYO.

Always ready to play a part in local organisations he was secretary of Bearsden and Milngavie Arts Guild for many years. He enjoyed his membership of the Probus Club of Allander becoming president in 1988-89. In his year as president he created a spin out club for Bearsden, called the Antonine Probus Club. Both clubs are still in good heart.

It was necessary for students to work and earn money during the long university holidays. He always had a love of the sea and when he retired he bought his first yacht Chiquita and then Tanjy. He completed his studies at night school to obtain the necessary RYA certificates and obtained his radio telephony licence.

Following his family tradition he joined the Incorporation of Skinners in the Trades House of Glasgow in 1935. He was the sixth generation member with his great, great, great grandfather joining the Skinners in 1798.

He had a life-long association with the Glasgow Unitarian Church. He joined the Unitarian drama group, The Unitarian Players, and later, in 1958, helped found the Unitarian Youth Orchestra. He continued to be a key member of the Unitarian Church in Glasgow holding the roles of secretary, treasurer and chairman.

After retirement he had to find a new platform to continue his teaching. He featured in two national television programmes. First aged 95 he appeared on ITV in Trevor McDonald's programme about driving after the age of 70. His message was clear "keep up to date with the Highway Code" and each year take an informal driving test to brush up on one's weaknesses.

Aged 101 he featured in a BBC1 documentary How to Live Beyond 100. The cameras tried to keep up with his busy lifestyle, filmed his chairing of the residents' company representing the freehold interest in his block of flats and then followed him up to Stratford-upon-Avon for his holiday enjoying some Shakespeare.

In February last year he moved into Westerton Care Home in Glasgow.

There was a large attendance at his funeral at Cairns Church, Milngavie, lead by the Minister Andrew Frater, a family friend. The large numbers highlighted the many people and organisations he had influenced by his example and his teaching. Always searching for something significant to do, he played a full part in everything he did throughout his long life.

He is survived by his daughter, two granddaughters, four great-granddaughters and his stepson.

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