Column: Farewell to Derek Allan - an inspiring headteacher who made a difference.

Great teachers don’t just teach - they inspire and can change young lives.

Thursday, 16th June 2022, 8:09 am

Listening to the remarkable tributes to Derek Allan on his retiral from Kirkcaldy High School, you saw how much he meant to pupils and staff.

There was real warmth and emotion as they surprised him with special messages of thank you.

And then, a rather lovely moment.

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Kirkcaldy High School rector Derek Allan (Pic: Fife Photo Agency)

As the Class of 2022 prepared to lead the audience out of the hall, they invited him to join them as a fellow leaver.

They departed under the UNICEF “Gold” Rights Respecting status banner to Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, but it was the song that followed - Sister Sledge’s ‘We Are Family’ - that perhaps caught the moment perfectly.

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Derek did something quite remarkable. He made a school the size of KHS a family.

One colleague said he inspired lives, and probably saved lives too, pupils past and present spoke of the support he gave them - whether that was a quiet word, a simple message or giving them the time and space they needed.

Over 13 years at KHS, and 20 before at Glenrothes High, he made a difference. A huge difference.

Watching the pupils stride across the stage with their honours, you got a sense of the scale of achievement and success as you heard of their next steps to university, into training or work.

Those journeys got off to the best possible start thanks to Derek and the team he built at KHS.

This really is the end of one era, and the start of another.

The prizegiving ceremony also reminded me how fortunate I was to have a headteacher, and a school, that supported me as a teenager.

Ralph Wilson was one of Scottish education’s pioneers.

He was the first principal of Wester Hailes Education Centre in Edinburgh which opened its doors when I was about to start third year.

Had it not done so, I dread to think how I’d have fared at Forrester High. The annexe was hellish enough - two years cowering from teachers who were belt happy, and had an iron-clad adherence to the sort of regimental formality that belonged to a previous generation.

Overnight that culture changed.

WHEC was a school which, both alphabetically and academically, always sat at the wrong end of those wretched exam tables, but our headteacher championed each and every child.

An innovator, he banned the belt from day one – long before Scotland’s politicians woke up and realised beating children was simply wrong.

As a result, the tawse wielding teachers retired en masse, and he built a team of young graduates with new ideas, new ways and a real desire to make a difference.

Like Derek, Ralph Wilson put children first. His obituary said he demanded respect not from children, but for children. Like Derek, he championed them to be the best they could.

It also said he set people free, but he never let them fall.

I love that phrase. It should be enshrined above the desk of every headteacher in every school in Scotland,.

Just as the pupils at KHS owe Derek Allan a huge debt, I owe Ralph, and the team he pretty much everything.

Great teachers don’t just teach - they inspire and can change young lives. Derek certainly did.