Kirkcaldy High School: Headteacher Derek Allan set to retire this summer

The headteacher of Kirkcaldy High School is set to bid farewell to staff and pupils when he retires at the end of the current academic year.

By Debbie Clarke
Thursday, 26th May 2022, 1:25 pm

Derek Allan has been rector at the town secondary school for the past 13 years.

Mr Allan, who took on the role in 2009, is very proud of his achievements while he has been in charge at Kirkcaldy High, but says none of these would have been possible without the support of a fantastic team of deputes, teachers, school staff, pupils and parents/carers over the years.

His retirement will mark the end of a 39-year career in secondary education in Fife.

Kirkcaldy High School rector Derek Allan who is retiring this summer. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

But many might be surprised to learn that Mr Allan never envisaged a career in teaching.

As a child growing up in Newtongrange, Midlothian, he actually dreamed of being a bus driver.

He said: “As a kid, I never wanted to be a teacher. I never gave it a thought. When I was a boy, I wanted to be a bus driver.

"I was never sure what to do, but I always had a great passion for geography, maps and atlases.

Derek Allan has been headteacher at Kirkcaldy High for the past 13 years. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

“I went to Newbattle High and worked in the Royal Bank of Scotland after finishing school, but it was a bit dull so I ended up going to Edinburgh University to study geography.

"I did my teacher training and moved to Glenrothes in 1983.

"I took my first post at Glenrothes High as a geography teacher and ended up staying at Glenrothes High for the next 26 years.”

After working as a geography teacher, Mr Allan went on to be a guidance teacher and then secured the post of depute headteacher for six or seven years, before becoming rector at Kirkcaldy High.

Kirkcaldy High School was awarded the UNICEF "Gold" Rights Respecting status in 2020. Pictured are staff and pupils outside the school. Pic: Andrew Reekie.

Mr Allan said initially he found the headship to be challenging: “It was a big step up, “ he said, “I did notice the difference in pace and the scale of the challenge – one being a headteacher and two, Kirkcaldy High was a very different school to Glenrothes High.

"Glenrothes was smaller and had a nice family feel - I tried to build that into Kirkcaldy High. I aimed to develop an ethos like that at Kirkcaldy basing it on respect, kindness and understanding.

"But when I first started at Kirkcaldy High, the school wasn’t in a good place. There had been some difficult inspections, but I was blessed to have staff who wanted to work together to make improvements.

"Then, eventually, we got it right which was an important milestone. We went on to have two good inspections in late 2009 and 2012 – we were able to create the conditions for the right way forward for the school.”

The ground-breaking achievements of Kirkcaldy High School's LGBT+ group have been recognised. Kirkcaldy High become the only the second state school in Scotland to be awarded the LGBT Gold Charter by LGBT Youth Scotland in 2020.

Mr Allan said one of his main successes as a headteacher, has been in the recruitment of staff – employing the right people with the right attitude.

"This is more important than their ability,” he explained. “You can learn skills and you can develop experience, but if your attitude is not right and you don’t want to put the kids first, then it isn’t good enough in teaching.

"If it isn’t a labour of love, then you aren’t going to be much good at it.

"Kids have to be nurtured and the worst teachers do not make kids feel valued – they don’t listen to them.

"How teachers behave with children is so important – they can either break them or allow them to fly.

“It’s about coming back to those core values of respect for self, others and learning.”

Kirkcaldy High School

Other successes Kirkcaldy High has had under Mr Allan’s leadership include: Winning the COSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) Excellence Award in 2014 for its work with NHS Fife in relation to teenage sexual health and pregnancy prevention; the school’s LGBT+ group winning the President’s Award in the COSLA Excellence Awards in 2018;

Kirkcaldy High winning best school twice in the Kingdom FM Local Hero Awards; the school being awarded the LGBT Gold Charter by LGBT Youth Scotland and becoming the first Fife secondary to be awarded UNICEF "Gold" Rights Respecting status, both in 2020.

Mr Allan continued: “What I am most proud of is the day to day nurturing atmosphere that has been established here. We wanted to create a happy and successful learning community, meeting needs and serving ambition and I think we have kept to that.”

As well as achievements, there have also been challenges, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.

He said: “The number of staff and pupil absences because of covid, particularly last winter, was terrible. The staff were amazing though – they came in to cover for their colleagues when we had a high number of teachers absent.

“Trying to keep the school going under these circumstances and maintaining an identity was challenging, but I am very proud of how everybody managed to pull together and we were able create a virtual school almost from scratch.

"I am also very proud of the kids’ resilience because the vast majority have bounced back well, despite the setbacks.”

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During his retirement, Mr Allan plans to spend more time on other interests including travelling. He also hopes to finish a book started by the late John Beck, one of the Friends of Kirkcaldy High School, about the former Kirkcaldy High pupils who died during the Second World War.

He said: “I have mixed emotions about retiring, but equally I know I can’t do this forever. I am glad the school is going to be left in good hands with my successor, Nicky Grant, who is an experienced headteacher. She is starting in August.”

He added: “I just want to say a huge thanks to all the parents and carers for their support over the years, to the young people who have passed through, during my time here, and a huge appreciation for the hard work of all the school staff, past and present.”