At the end of teacher training college 30+ years ago, a group of us spent a week in the Cairngorms, based at Glenmore Lodge. It was five days that cemented my love of the mountains and that wonderful spot by Loch Morlich.
In a sense, it was an odd end to a peculiar year. Teacher training back then was different; working now with probationers I’m inspired by their knowledge and reflection on their craft.
In the mid seventies we were underwhelmed by the lectures on sociology, psychology, and method, and cast adrift in our teacher placements.
It seemed an odd mix between the overly formal and the laissez faire. So, the idea that we should head for the Cairngorms, with some college staff, and explore a range of disciplines outside our subject qualifications, seemed idiosyncratically beyond our college experience.
However, we soon learned about the tops, the fauna, sailing, map-reading and climbing, and eventually managed to conquer five Munros on our final day.
It was an absolutely outstanding experience – which certainly was the foundation of my consistent promotion of Outdoor Education, but also underlined the value of thinking outside the box, interdisciplinary approaches, and the forging of extracurricular contact – for staff as well as pupils.
For all the physical barriers I crossed during that brilliantly sun-filled week, I surprised myself most on Ben Macdui, drawing board on my knees, actually sketching a landscape.
I couldn’t have been more astonished had An Fearlas Mor – the ghostly Big Gray Man himself – tapped me on the shoulder.
In my family, laughter was best achieved by asking my dad and his brothers to draw a horse, and I fulfilled genetic expectations with15% in my Art exam. Yet, here I was , 2B pencil in hand, fretting about perspective!
The reason for this was Cecile – the week’s organizer from the College’s Art Department. She eschewed the Munro-bagging and rock-climbing bits, and took us up gentler slopes, dressed, appropriately for an art teacher, in a snood covered by an old straw hat, and a smock.
As a schoolgirl, Cecile, along with her sister, had known the late Ronald Searle and had been the inspiration for the original St Trinian’s cartoons. She had attended Edinburgh’s St Trinnean’s school and benefited from the educational philosophy of its headteacher and founder, Catherine Fraser Lee, who espoused the radical Dalton Plan for education.
Though considered bizarre at the time (rumours abounded of St Trinnean’s girls being forced to eat their meals starting with the dessert), its principles don’t seem so weird today: to tailor each student's programme to his or her needs, interests and abilities; to promote both independence and dependability; to enhance the student's social skills and sense of responsibility toward others. Indeed, it would lie quite comfortably alongside the principles of the Curriculum for Excellence.
There is a delicious irony in a ‘St Trinian’s girl’ providing the educational and philosophical inspiration for 1970s teaching students and presaging 21st Century innovation.
The peaks we climbed in the Cairngorms in May 1975 provided excellent preparation for the challenges we would face over the next 30 years in teaching. Ronald Searle may have drawn the rebellious school girls, but, thanks to Cecile, and St Trinian’s, we could draw our own conclusions.