Rector Charlie’s high road to retirement is blocked by snow – not that he minds too much

Rector of Kelso High School, Charlie Robertson is retiring.
Rector of Kelso High School, Charlie Robertson is retiring.

the wintry weather’s impact on the region’s schools is well documented with pupils and staff tentatively returning to the classroom after an enforced week off.

And another unlikely casualty of the elements is the retiral of one the Borders’ most illustrious and dedicated educationalists.

Charlie Robertson, who celebrated his 60th birthday last month, was due to stand down after 11 years as rector of 680-pupil Kelso High School at the end of term on December 21.

But interviews for his successor have had to be postponed until the new year because of the heavy snow and Charlie has agreed to stay on until February when his replacement will take over.

“It’s actually no great hardship because my affection for this place goes far beyond the professional,” he told us this week.

Born in Luss on Loch Lomondside and educated there and at Keil School in Dumbarton, Charlie took the high road to Dundee University, graduating in history and political science, before gaining his teaching qualification in the same city.

The farmer’s son returned to the west coast to teach history at Oban High in 1974 before being appointed principal teacher of history at Kelso five years later.

There he stayed until 1988 when he became assistant head teacher at Berwickshire High School in Duns and deputy head at Earlston High from 1996 to 1999 before succeeding Alistair Johnston as rector at Kelso.

“That was when I landed my dream job at Kelso, where I had been a teacher for 14 very happy years,” recalled Charlie this week.

During that first stint he had met and married primary school teacher Christine. The couple, who stay in Eckford, have two children: Alistair, 25, who is studying for a PhD at Bristol, and Kirsten, 22, who graduated last year from Stirling University and is now enjoying a gap year.

Charlie’s affinity for the Borders was forged on the rugby field. He played tight-head prop for Keil, his university and Oban Lorne RFC on various sporting sorties to the region.

“By the time I got to Kelso I was perhaps past my best, although I did get the odd game for the seconds at Poynder Park,” explained Charlie, who is is still actively involved in youth rugby coaching.

He was also attracted by the rurality of the Borders.

He told us: “I grew up in the country and did not really take to the city. There is a great sense of family and community here.

“We hear a lot today about pupils behaving badly, but I can honestly say the youngsters we have at Kelso today are not different in terms of behaviour, than when I first came here.

“I taught many of the mums and dads of the current crop of pupils who, like their parents, share a very positive ethos towards learning and mutual respect. I modestly consider that instilling that ethos is one of my greatest achievements.

“The pupils themselves care passionately about the school and I was proud when they lobbied Scottish Borders Council for improvements to the buildings here.

“We are all hopeful the leakier parts of the building will be addressed in capital spending programmes in the near future.

“It is a difficult time for education as public spending cuts bite, but I believe Kelso is well placed to maintain standards and morale among staff and pupils. The school may be old, but it is very central to the town, unlike some secondaries, and this is another plus.

“We are a key part of the vibrant Kelso community and long may that be the case.”

Charlie recalls being “particularly chuffed” when, four years ago, Kelso was chosen by the BBC to be its Soundtown, with the broadcaster sharing its resources and expertise with students and vice versa.

“The school declared independence from the rest of the UK for a month and we had our own currency – Kelso Bawbees – a black and white flag, a national anthem, passports and Kelsae dialect.”

Charlie is also proud of the alumni who have been awarded the Freedom of Kelso High. That roll of honour includes artist Anne King, author and broacaster Alistair Moffat, financier Sir William Purves and that doyenne of community life Margaret Riddell.

Sporting achievement has also been recognised and the most recent recipient is Scottish international rugby hooker Ross Ford.

“The honour reflects the length and breadth of interests in the school, including all sports, not just rugby,” said Charlie. “We also have a drama group and a tremendous music department.”

A past president of Kelso Burns Club well known for his stirring Immortal Memories, Charlie is secretary of SportKelso, the umbrella group lobbying for better facilities for all sports in the town, and is also chairman of the steering group overseeing the introduction of a temporary one-way traffic system.

“My school and community roles have been so interlinked for so long, that I expect retirement will be something of an anti-climax,” he told us.

“I’ll still be involved in rugby coaching and have a bit more time for hillwalking and preparing my Burns talks if still in demand.”