Obituary: James Vallance
By the criterion of lasting influence on the lives of others, there are few more important jobs than that of head teacher of a primary school. Yet, too often, headmasters and headmistresses of 5-11 pupils are not only underpaid, but undervalued and undersung.
James Vallance was not only the first head teacher of the Deanburn Primary School in Bo'ness, on the Firth of Forth, but an innovative pioneer of science teaching for children from the age of nine onwards. His methods and example spread to many other schools, disseminated in particular by the interest and approval of HM Inspectors of Schools in Scotland.
Son of a skilled iron-founder and craftsman in making ornate railings, many of which were taken away by government order for munitions smelting in the Second World War, Vallance was educated at Bo'ness Academy and, as he put it, usefully, in the ranks of the Life Guards. Service in Egypt and the Canal Zone in the early 1950s helped provide him with that elusive natural authority which meant that he simply did not have discipline problems with pupils in the classroom.
After obtaining a good degree in Biological Sciences at Edinburgh University, Vallance returned as a teacher in the Science Department of his old school, Bo'ness Academy. As his colleague for four years, I admired his success in awakening a curiosity about the natural world, in the most unlikely of tough 14- and 15- year-olds. Years later, many of them, my constituents, have mentioned to me how much they owed to Vallance, for initiating interests which they would not have had, and often proved invaluable in finding a fulfilling job.
After years of secondary teaching, Vallance became assistant head of a primary School at Boghall, Bathgate, earmarked for the post he really wanted, headship of the large new Deanburn School in his home town, a post which he was to hold with distinction for 17 years.
Vallance believed that, for the overwhelming nmber of boys and girls, the lead-in to scientific method was through rudimentary biology and geology. Never, he used to tell me, underestimate the 'tactile factor' - that youngsters love to touch and finger an object, be it an interesting stone, piece of material or a live animal or bird. At Deanburn he developed a veritable menagerie, for which individual pupils had responsibilities. This approach to science, and curiosity about nature, paid academic dividends later, when Vallance's former pupils tackled physics and chemistry at secondary school. One of the senior managers of the Grangemouth Petro- Chemical Complex on the Forth told me what a good grounding Vallance's pupils had when they arrived at work. He inspired his pupils with his own love of music, and skills as an instrumentalist.
In his retirement, he devoted himself to the interests of the medieval Church of Carriden, and its congregation. Vallance's was a worthwhile life.
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