RF - time line
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Please note that this 'Time Line' of R.F. Mackenzie's life is a 'work in progress'.
More information will be added as it becomes available.








Robert F. Mackenzie is born at Garioch, on the 27th April, 1910






 School Dux, Robert Gordon's College.



Attains Honours Degree at Aberdeen University



Taught at Forest School, England



Road Fortune published (co-author with Hunter Diack)



Served in the RAF



Married Diana, at All Saints' Church, Kingston-on-Thames



Trained as a teacher



Teacher in English/History at Galashiels Academy (till 1952)



Principal Teacher English at Templehall Jnr Sec School. Kirkcaldy



Headteacher Braehead Secondary School. Buckhaven. Fife



A Question of Living is Published (first of his trilogy)



Escape from the Classroom is Published



The Sins of the Children is Published



R. F. Mackenzie leaves Braehead to go to Summerhill, Aberdeen



Appointed Headteacher Summerhill Aberdeen



 Braehead Secondary School closes (sadly) in February '70



State School Published



Dismissed from Summerhill



The Unbowed Head is published






 Re-union in Buckhaven - Mr and Mrs MacKenzie attend
Saturday 13th September 1986



RF Mackenzie dies peacefully at home in West Cults, 21 December



A Search for Scotland is published - RF's final testiment






The Life of R. F. Mackenzie is published (Peter Murphy)



Symposium at Dundee University on RF Mackenzie






Seed is sown for web site in memory of Braehead School,
former staff, pupils and R.F. Mackenzie



Web site 'braehead-news.org.uk' is launched - July 2001



www.braehead.info is registered October 2001



 'braehead voice' launched in August to celebrate 1st birthday of site



 Seminar on RF Mackenzie in Aberdeen - December



 Aberdeen 9th Oct - 30 years after being suspended in 1974



 Event being planned for early 2005 in Buckhaven


Some dates and information resourced from Peter Murphy's book on
The Life of R.F. Mackenzie' and Vivienne Forrests 'Tribute' to R.F.
Other dates and information from various sources.

Have you any dates or information to add to this 'Time Line'
then please
e-mail them to the web site.

Time Line:

1910 - In the close-knit community of Garioch, on the 27th April 1910,
R.F. Mackenzie was born. The proud parents Catherine and Robert Mackenzie at that time stayed at a little place called Lethenty where his father was station master. Soon, after the family moved to a bigger station a few miles away at Wartle which is where the young Robert grew up.
The Station house, Wartle
                          Station House, Wartle

Robert with his first bike
The young Robert Mackenzie with his very first bike.

The seed is sown within Robert at this early age and obviously gave him the needed skills and endurance for him to take up his cycling trip round Europe with Hunter Diack.

1927 - School Dux

a young Robert attends school
Robert Mackenzie, school Dux at Robert Gordon's College 1927.

'Mackenzie followed the tradition of many before him in doing well at school and progressing from the local Secondary school in Turriff when he had reached the age of 14 to Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen. Looking back, however, although he appeared to his parents to flourish at the school and, indeed, was a Dux, yet in his memoir's, he had deep reservations about the value of the education he was given there.'

(extract from Peter Murphy's book)

1931 - In 1931 he graduated MA from Aberdeen University, where his two sisters graduation photofollowed him. Catherine, like her brother, went on to teach, as well as gaining her LRAM, while their younger sister Alice qualified as a doctor.

1934/36 - R.F. Mackenzie spent a brief spell as an uncertified teacher at the experimental freeschool, Forest School in England.

He wrote at the time:
"I was at Forest School from the age of 24 until I was 26. It was as if the school had taken me to a high place and let me see the kingdoms of the world, broadening my horizons. They were practical people like the 6th century monks of Monte Cassino, working away quietly converting dreams into solid reality. These two years stand out in my memory. Since then, former pupils have written that for them, too, their years at Forest School were among the best in their lives. There was freedom and partly because of that, there was what Goethe (in a letter to Schiller) called 'tranquil activity'. I'd been into the educational future and it worked."

1935 - Publication of his collaborative book 'Road Fortune'.

Below R.F Mackenzie and Hunter Diack
Robert and Hunter Diack enjoy a quite moment
R.F. Mackenzie co-wrote this book with his lifelong friend Hunter Diack. The book was a remarkable achievement as the book has value as a travelogue but also as a historical document. The book contains their views and observations of two young and gifted graduates on the political, social and economic changes that were affecting Italy, the Balkans, Austria and Germany in the early 30's.

Road Fortune was published by Macmillan in 1935.

So it was in December 1932 that Mackenzie and Diack set off with high hopes for the continent. Each had a sturdy touring bicycle equipped with acetylene lamps and were burdened with panniers, a heavy canvas tent, and an old Remington Typewriter on which they planned to record their adventures. As their staple diet, they carried with them a 30-pound bag of oatmeal that was nearly stolen from them before they set off from London. Despite the excitement of going to the continent where everything was in a ferment (there was rumour of war, the Polish corridor anti-Semitism, the Spanish revolution, and, of course, the Balkans), it was the physical stress of hard cycling and living under canvas far dominated their early progress through France.

H. G. WellsDuring the course of their journey through France, they learned from a newspaper that H.G. Wells had gone to spend the winter at Grasse in the south of France, and, since that was on their route, they wrote a letter to him saying that they expected to reach Grasse in January and might they come and have a talk with him. Much to their surprise and delight, they found when they reached the Post Office at Grasse that he had left them an invitation there to visit him and because it was difficult to find the way to the house outside of Grasse, he would send his chauffeur to meet them and take them to his house for a meal. The chauffeur was there on time. They had to explain to him that they had to take their bicycles with them, and so he told them he would lead the way.

War of the Worlds imageWells is described as a smiling, short, energetic figure who poured the two lads generous whiskies before serving them a meal. In the course of conversation he exhibited his fundamental optimism for the future of mankind, declaring, 'What a wonderful time to by young! Students and young people from all over the world will be travelling, as these Scotsmen are, and inquiring and discussing world problems and putting their minds to the question of how to organise things better.' He then persuaded them to stay the night in a guest-house in the garden.

HG Wells web site (read more about this great author)

Hunter Diack :
Hunter Diack
A lifelong friendship was begun at University with R.F Mackenzie, who was a year behind him. Robert Mackenzie, son of an Aberdeen stationmaster, was himself to become a pioneering educationist and a controversial figure. At University the two young men were outgoing, outspoken, loved life and loved their fellowmen: their brand of philosophy knew all the answers. Of all the richness of anecdote from that time perhaps the most picturesque is that of the pair of young socialists refusing to stand for the National Anthem - and nobody noticing; but in a letter to his friend later Hunter tells how he did the same in a cinema in Toronto and got the angry reaction: 'You can do that in Aberdeen but you can't do it here!'

After graduating Hunter did a year of Teacher Training, then spent another year at the University of Toronto on an Interchange Scholarship, researching in the field of educational psychology.

Before starting out on his career proper Hunter accompanied Robert Mackenzie on an epic cycling journey through Europe, their account jointly set down in a book Road Fortune, published in 1935 by Macmillan. This is a remarkable book, containing as it does the insight and premonitions of these two young men, eyes and ears open in a Europe coming to the boil. They stayed a weekend with H. G. Wells at Grasse; met an assortment of cartoon characters on other Grand Tours; hungered and wearied and pitied the peasants whose lot was always to hunger and weary; spent three weeks talking religion with their compatriots at the Scots College in Rome.

They sent back occasional accounts for the Press and Journal under pen-names: Hunter was 'Clay Davie' - the country name for a clay pipe - while Robert was 'Picky Say' - the farmers hat. They were away for half a year: when their savings were gone this episode in their lives was finished, and Hunter entered into the world of working for a living.

Hunter Diack GraduationHe became Assistant Master at Robert Gordon's College, teaching English, History and German. By all accounts he was a popular teacher with boys and masters alike - perhaps a little envied by the latter, for it seemed in a way unfair that a man so disorganised and wittily scornful of the establishment should do so well at his job.

Hunter Diack, John Foster, John Mackintosh and other friends of like mind would occasionally meet in the back room of the Cults Hotel, 'We were very left-wing in those days,' mused John Foster. 'The North East Review was really produced as an answer to the Kemsley newspapers.'

'Left-wing, but never committed,' points out Robert Mackenzie. 'Hunter Diack didn't sink his own individuality in any political party.'

Hunter Diack and Robert Mackenzie were called up into the RAF in early 1941.
(extracts on Hunter Diack taken from a copy of the Leopard Magazine)

1941/45 - Robert Mackenzie is called-up to serve in the RAF:

RF in training
'Mackenzie served in the RAF during the war from 1941 to 1945, having been called up at the age of 31 nearly two years after the war had begun. His diaries of the war date from August 1941 to April 1945 by which time he was on flying missions with Bomber Command over Occupied Europe.

He spent much of the time prior to 1945 training as a navigator, first in Canada and the USA in 1941 and then in South Africa during the period October 1942 to October 1943. He was then stationed for much of the rest of the war at various locations in the Midlands and South of England before being 'demobbed' in January 1946 with the rank of Sergeant Navigator.'

RF Mackenzie'Mackenzie, after a spell of embarkation leave in Aberdeen, where the family had moved two years earlier, was shipped out from Liverpool at the end of September 1942 to South Africa for further navigator training. It took six weeks of what he describes as 'evasive courses in convoy' to reach South Africa.

Once there he took an obvious delight in discovering the country for himself in the course of going to East London where the training would take place. Some aspects of what he sees on the train journey from Durban reminds him of home, according to his recollections of the event.'

(extract from Peter Murphy's book)

1945 -Marriage of Robert Mackenzie and Diana Lister:

ARMSCOTE - Marriage of Miss D. C. Lister
The wedding day
The marriage of Flight-Sergeant R.F. Mackenzie, of Aberdeen, and Petty Officer Diana C. Lister,
W.R.N.S., daughter of Mrs. Lister of Armscote, took place at All Saints' Church, Kingston-on- Thames; the officiating clergyman was the Rev. Leslie Yorke, padre of the W.R.N.S. Depot. The bride was given away by her uncle, Mr. A.C.H. Pryce, and looked radiant in a dress of white satin with train, long net veil and mediaeval head-dress. She carried a bouquet of tulips and daffodils. Miss Janet Pryce (cousin of the bride) was bridesmaid, and wore a cyclamen dress and net veil and carried a posy of anemones. The best man was was Flight-Sergeant J. Fox, R.A.F.

the happy coupleAs the bride entered the church the hymn "Lead Us, Heavenly Father, Lead Us" was sung and during the service "O Perfect Love". The bride and bridegroom left the church to the strains of the Wedding March, and a guard of honour composed of R.A.F. and W.R.N.S. was formed outside.

The reception was held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Pryce, about forty guests being present. After the cutting of the iced cake, decorated with models of steering wheels, anchors, lifebuoys and a four-engined bomber, the toast of the bride and bridegroom was proposed by Mr. Ernest Bomford, to which the bridegroom responded.

The honeymoon was spent in Devonshire, the bride travelling in a gold Moroccan dress with camel coat and tan accessories.

(taken from newspaper clipping)

1946 - Trained as Teacher - Appointed to Galasheils Academy:

He enrolled at Aberdeen Teacher Training College in 1946 to train as a teacher, not long after 'demob' from the RAF, and, having completed the six month's emergency course that was open to returning servicemen at that time, he was offered a post, which he accepted, at Galashiels Academy as a teacher of English and History and began his teaching career there in August of that same year.

Despite the fact that he had not been inside a Scottish school since the time he had been a pupil at Robert Gordon's in Aberdeen 20 years before, he found, to his disappointment, that nothing had changed - 'there they were again, the Tudors and the Stuarts as large as life, the notes on The Merchant of Venice and exercises on subordinate adverbial clauses'. In the staff room education was not mentioned except at the time of the external examinations and the discussion was restricted to whether the exam questions were fair or unfair. Mackenzie felt a great sense of disillusionment at what he saw as a period of retrenchment setting in after the liberating atmosphere in society associated with the war years.

He and Diana enjoyed life in the Borders. For him, especially, the Borders was attractive because of its dramatic scenery and its deep-rooted connections with the way Scotland had developed historically as a nation over the centuries.
(extract from Peter Murphy's book)

1952 - Principal Teacher English at Templehall Jnr Sec School. Kirkcaldy:

Templehall Junior Secondary in Kirkcaldy, an inexpensive, single-storey building catering for the needs of Kirkcaldy children aged between 12 and 15 who had been allocated to a Junior Secondary course as opposed to a Senior Secondary course at a 'Grammar' school on account of 'failing' their '11-Plus' exam. Jack Stewart, the Headteacher, was a go-ahead man who believed in the benefits of outdoor education.

Templehall pupils in control tower
In an article in the Evening Dispatch of June 1957 headed 'School for Adventure' an interesting description is given of the activities that the school had become well-known for at a time when outdoor education was still in its infancy. The system used was for the children to save up for an adventure week by making weekly deposits in a school savings account and then draw lots to go mountaineering, flying in an aircraft over their home county (as a unique form of geography lesson) or go pony-trecking in the Highlands. For instance, a company of 26 boys and girls with two teachers spent seven days at Kingussie Youth Hostel where they made friends with a stable-full of hardy Highland ponies, reaching 1500 feet above see-level, achieving lessons of self-reliance, of community spirit, endurance and resourcefulness.

Hence, swimming, fishing and general nature study figured in the week's course as well as pony-trekking and, in addition, visits were made to the local Folk Museum with its vivid reconstruction of Highland life and to nearby Ruthven Castle. Hostelling was also seen as a valuable educational adjunct in that children had to learn (perhaps for the first time) to cater, not just for their needs, but for others by dint of learning the value of cooperation.
(extract from Peter Murphy's book)

Pupils view Fife from the air
Fife Free Press, Saturday June 18, 1955

Templehall pupils prepare for flight
Over 40 boys and girls from Templehall School, Kirkcaldy, spent Monday at Scone Aerodrome, near Perth. During the day, the pupils went on a flight in an Airwork Ltd. Rapide to view their native county from the air.

For over a year some of the senior geography classes at Templehall School have been making a particular study of their own county. It began with an excursion by bus round the various geographical areas of Fife, for example the fishing towns of the East Neuk, the agricultural land of the Howe and the industrial home region with Kirkcaldy as the centre. Visits were also arranged to individual industries, farms, mines and other enterprises. Amongst the latter were Balfarg farms with it pedigree dairy stock, the Wellesley Colliery, Durie Foundary, Burtisland Shipyard, where a ship launching was witnessed, and the opening of the new pit at Seafield.

A novel feature of these visits, adopted in order to secure the power of the pupil's own initiative and enterprise, was the use by the children concerned of box cameras. The films taken were developed and printed by the pupils, and the photographs used by each boy or girl to build up their own geographical record of their home county. This is one way it seems of overcoming the resistance to education and the apathy that, as we all know from our schooldays can come too easily from too close an adherence to atlas and text book.

The school's English, Geography and Science Masters (Mr R. F. Mackenzie, Mr. D. R. Mitchell and Mr. W. S. Band), felt that valuable through the project was so far, perhaps the knowledge obtained lacked cohesion. They decided, therefore, with the enthusiastic approval of the Director of Education and their headmaster to let the children see the whole county as a living map beneath their feet. This was done with the unstinted co-operation of Airworks, Ltd, Scone Aerodrome, who were chartered to fly the pupils on an hour's flight.

For the children it was a thrilling and informative experience. As for the educational value, this is best summed-up in the words of one of the pupils - "I learned more in one hour about the geography of Fife than in 10 years in the classroom."

(extracts from this article from the Fife Free Press)

1957 - Appointed Headteacher, Braehead Secondary School:

RF Mackenzie  in the school office 1964
In 1957 R. F. Mackenzie is appointed Headteacher of Braehead Secondary School, Buckhaven, Fife.

'It was, then, with a sense of purpose and considerable optimism that Mackenzie came to Braehead School in 1957 as its first Headteacher. The opening of the school was conventional enough as recorded in the log-book that Mackenzie kept of the daily events of the running of the school:

'Councillor Thomson and Chairman of the local Education Sub-Committee present.

Psalm 23 Crimond. Lord's Prayer.

Surprised at fresh appearance, healthy, well-clad, of pupils. They sang well.
Give out time-tables. Flowers on platform ... afterwards used for dining rooms.

Dining went so well that at the Staff Meeting a member of staff said they'd agreed gladly to have meals with pupils. There were table-cloths. They washed their hands before eating.

Staff meeting 2.45 to 4 pm.'
(the above is an extract from Peter Murphy's book)

The Mackenzie family in Upper Largo

The Mackenzie family at their house in Upper Largo.

1963 - A Question of Living is published

A Question of LivingArticle published in Daily Record, Monday September 30, 1963
Written by Paul Foot
Shake up our schools!
A book published today should be read immediately by every Scots parent. It's a crushing, slashing attack on the foundations of our educational system . . . and it comes from a headmaster! He is R. F. Mackenzie, headmaster of Braehead Junior Secondary School in Fife.

He is known throughout Scotland for his dynamic ideas about schools and schooling.

Hard look
Now he's set them all down in a little book called " A Question of Living" (Collins: 18s). Mr. Mackenzie takes a cool, angry, good-tempered constructive, and sometimes very funny SWIPE at the system.

Here are some points he makes:
* "Professional Educationalists," draw up the syllabuses for children because "These things had always been taught, and-well, wasn't that good enough?"

"It is tough on teenagers," says Mr. Mackenzie, "that they should have to spend their golden hours of youth on Henry II and George I."

* Bureaucracy and stuffiness in Government and local authority departments produce people who dislike change, says Mr. Mackenzie.

It means re-arranging the files and too many people at the top "play safe" because safety brings success.

* Examinations often are based on regurgitation of things memorised . . . like the distribution of population in Australia.

They are completely divorced from everyday life and merely antagonise the children, says Headmaster Mackenzie.

* Of sex teaching Mr. Mackenzie tells how he once asked a class to write on a piece of paper whether they wanted to be taught about reproduction. All the children wrote YES.

Most children are excessively ignorant about simple biological sex problems, says Mr. Mackenzie, and they very much need and appreciate teaching on the subject.

Mr. Mackenzie attacks almost every aspect of British education today . . . and not just destructively. His ideas for change are clear and convincing. After all, he's tried many of them out-and they work-in his school.

For instance, a School Council of pupils runs a lot of the school affairs and deals with cases of stealing. Although they have power to punish, they are much more interested in finding out WHY the "crime" has been committed.

Science lessons in Braehead School can mean measuring grounds for playing fields with theodylites, and "maths" can mean a discussion on income-tax or hire-purchase.

Big change
I wish there were more people like Mr. Mackenzie.

More teachers who were not primarily interested in the "status of the teacher," more parents who did not leave their child's education to someone else.

If our common rooms and Education Departments had half this man's humanity and wisdom, we could change our schools overnight from dull, hated exam-production lines into happy, invigorating places of learning.
(Paul Foot - Daily Record - 1963)

Press on the book above for a fuller account of what is to be found in this book.

1965 - The Sins of the Children is published

The Sins of The ChildrenArticle unknown paper but headed 'Teacher'

The Sins of the Children by R.F. Mackenzie (Collins 25s)
(written by Chaim Bermant)

Mr. Mackenzie combines four qualities rarely found in one individual and hardly ever at all in a headmaster - charity, patience, imagination and firmness - and his two books on his experiences as head of a school, in a Fife mining town have become minor classics. His school is now under sentence of death, for it does not fit into the comprehensive system planned by the local authorities.

The Sins of the Children is not plea for remission of sentence. It is rather an attack on both system and authorities, for he feels that the former stifle initiative, and the latter, like every deity which every existed, try to fashion man in their own image. They are less interested in individuals than in stereotypes, less in opening the youthful imagination to inquiry than in cramming it with accepted notions.

Those who do not share the author's optimism about the inherent richness of the human imagination will be reassured by this as by his earlier books. He has achieved remarkable material. Yet they do not indicate a unique approach to teaching; he merely happens to be a unique teacher. It is the paucity of Mackenzie's (his more conservative readers may feel that there is one too many) in our educational set-up which makes it necessary to evolve systems, and for authorities to lay down lines of guidance.
(written by Chaim Bermant)

Press on the book above for a fuller account of what is to be found in this book.

1967 - Escape from the Classroom is published

Escape from the ClassroomScottish Daily Express Monday, August 21, 1967.
My Week by Elizabeth Whitley

A new book by R. F. Mackenzie once head of Braehead ("Escape from the Classroom") School. He writes of the unutterable beauty that lies at our door, in moor and glen, and of his efforts to bring his dispossessed flock, both sheep and goats, into contact with it: to get them out of the pen.

Most of his children were under-privileged, some from broken homes, some from drunken ones, nearly all with working mothers.

"Sometimes I see these children as a proud aristocracy, tattered remnants of dignity and spirit enduring through the tribulations of their upbringing."

The things he did-collecting. Alpines on Goatfell instead of swotting botany out of a book for instance - are said to be possible with small groups, impossible with numbers: yet it was for lack of numbers Braeside was closed.

Three thousand secondary pupils was the estimate number for 1970, enough for two comprehensive schools, not three: and his was the oldest building. "We teach civics, citizenship, and tell the pupils how a county council is run. But that is only the machinery." Who would dare tell the whole story?

Although "our pupils probably already guess that the selection of provosts and senior bailies does not always proceed on a Christian, or even gentlemanly, basis, but sometimes . . . by tooth and claw."

He tells of some girls with lice in their hair who got full marks in a home hygiene exam which included questions on how to deal with lice in your hair. Were they any further off-beam than the committee that ignored the schools whole art display, and complained of scribbles in the lavatory?

The good pupils, however eager once, become the good galley-slaves, gagged and chained through the years to their desks. Does that fit them for "the anarchy in human relationships caused by the retreat and retiral of Christianity?"

The book "The Sins of the Children", does not end in a "noble, nebulous pipe-dream . . . because tomorrow there will be an increase in vandalism, gang fights and apparently inexplicable acts of cruelty."

Press on the book above for a fuller account of what is to be found in this book.

1968 - R.F Mackenzie leaves Braehead in Buckhaven for Summerhill in Aberdeen:

Presentation on leaving Braehead
Mr. Robert Mackenzie headmaster of Braehead Secondary School, Buckhaven, was presented with a cine camera at a dinner in the Crusoe Hotel, Lower Largo, at the weekend.

He leaves on April 15 to take up a similar post at Summerhill Secondary School, Aberdeen.

Mrs. Mackenzie was presented with a nest of three tables by Miss Kirsten Adam.

The function was attended by 52 present and former teachers.

Courier 15.3.68

1968 - R.F. Mackenzie takes up his post in Summerhill Aberdeen:

Summerhill, Aberdeen external view
Everyone interested in the progress of Scottish education hails with pleasure the appointment of Mr. Robert Mackenzie, formerly of Braehead School, Buckhaven, as headmaster of a comprehensive school in Aberdeen.

Mr. Mackenzie is a pioneer. Finding old teaching methods wanting, he experimented with new, and made Braehead and educational legend.

But his innovations did not seem to meet with local approval. He will be happy in the go-ahead climate of Aberdeen. Where he will have fresh and ample opportunity to construct a new deal for large numbers of Scottish children.
(end - unknown newspaper article)

A graphic look at Summerhill, Aberdeen

The 'Rebel' who taught 'em a lesson!
by John Pirie

at work in woodwork department

The man who has been described as Scotland's most progressive thinking headmaster viewed his change of job yesterday with mixed feelings.

Robert Mackenzie was sad to leave Braehead Secondary School, Buckhaven, Fife, where for 10 years he has pioneered experiments and ideas in education - and taken hefty swipes at the fuddy-duddies and the tradition educational establishment in the process.

But he was happy about being appointed headmaster of Summerhill Secondary School, Aberdeen, where he hopes to carry on the work which has gained him a national reputation inside and outside Scotland and the nickname 'rebel head'.

Mackenzie, in his drive to give every child under his care equal opportunity, has stood on many toes and made many enemies in that county.

He admitted in his book 'Escape from the Classroom': 'For the past eight years we have encountered bitter resistance to experimental work in education.'

The opposition has never deterred him. At Braehead, he pioneered expeditions to the Highlands, horse-riding, ski-ing, mountaineering and boat building.

'Text book history is meaningless' he says.

Mackenzie gives every pupil at Braehead the same education for the first two years. After that he leaves it to them to go forward for certificate examinations.

Some parents became a bit worried because the school was not quite like others. But parents and pupils unanimously backed him as he fought the losing battle to save Braehead.

The school in the comprehensive change-over eventually will be absorbed in the local High School.

Mackenzie believes that when this happens the ideas and experiments carried out successfully at Braehead will disappear.

To this unorthodox headmaster, the High School stands for his basic hate of the Scottish education system - the division of the bright from the not - so - bright or the academic from the non-academic.

Mackenzie not only outspokenly has lambasted a system that 'makes 75 per cent of Scots pupils dreadfully aware they are also rans', but also has advocated the abolition of examinations.

He claims the enjoyment has been taken out of learning by the tests and exams.

'Our worst schools are those which put so much pressure on pupils in order to get examination results that they drive life and sparkle out of the children'.

As Mackenzie was saying that, he was pointing an accusing finger at his former school Robert Gordon's School, Aberdeen, and also the city's Grammar School and Academy as being among the worst exam conscious offenders.

Now at 57, the accuser is returning to his native Aberdeen to work alongside the accused.

Does Aberdeen know about this controversial educationist?
'We know about him and we are delighted that he is coming here', said Mr. James Clark, the City's director of education.

'I do not mind controversial heads. I would far rather have a man thinking about important things in education and saying what he thinks than people who are just run of the mill.'

Fife found it could not keep pace with Mackenzie's initiative but fortunately for Scotland he is not quitting the country because, as I once said to him:

Biology class in progress

'If our school, Education Departments and Education Committees had half this man's humanity and wisdom we would change our schools overnight from dull, hated exam-production lines into happy, invigorating places of learning.'

1968 - Braehead School closes:

The Independent Newspaper

One of Scotland's most imaginative experiments in education is liable to be brought to a halt today by a simple act of Fife Education Committee.

It is likely to absorb the now- famous Braehead School, Buckhaven, into a comprehensive system which would remove its separate identity.

And thus will end the dream of head master Robert Mackenzie, an enlightened educationist who has run the school on novel lines.

He has balanced the academic with the practical. Pupils have outdoor activities, such as mountaineering; there is a flat where girls learn to run a house; the school has its own newspaper.

Discipline is in the hands of a school council. In short, education is related to living.

Now Mr. Mackenzie and many of his staff are planning to resign. And who can blame them?

With so much stagnant mediocrity in education it is unthinkable that progressive attitudes should be so discouraged.

1970 - State School is published

State School
Text taken from the back cover of this book:
When he became headmaster of a secondary modern school in the Scottish coalfields, R.F. Mackenzie found himself in charge of children whose lives promised to become as derelict as their surroundings - unhappy, delinquent, their futures blocked by a joyless and, to them, impossible tradition of academic education.

This anthology of extracts from his writings describes his fight to provide them with an education which was both imaginative and relevant. Trips in the Scottish countryside, which were the children's first experience of independence and of the beauty of the land they lived in, convinced him that the school should acquire an permanent base in the Highlands, an ambition which thrust him into a long and bitter struggle with an officialdom which prized narrow restrictions more than such dreams.

There were other dreams, too, and other defeats: staff who betrayed his ideal of a school free from authoritarian modes of discipline, delinquent children who tried, unsuccessfully, to keep out of trouble. But these pages speak of anything but defeat: they describe the authentic feel of the experience which education should provide, especially for the underprivileged, and demonstrate convincingly how good the victory will be when it is, finally, won.

R. F. Mackenzie is now headmaster of Summerhill comprehensive school in Aberdeen.

Press on the book above for a fuller account of what is to be found in this book.

1974 - R.F is dismissed from Summerhill in Aberdeen:
The time: 4 p.m. on Monday April 1, 1974. The place: the chambers of Aberdeen Corporation. The education convener, Councillor Roy Pair, turned to R. F. Mackenzie and said: "I have to inform you that as of now you are suspended".

Thus ended what was at once the most controversial and most celebrated headmastership Scotland has ever known. It was a moment charged with the most intense emotion. I and other journalists had just witnessed what was not so much a special meeting of Aberdeen Education Committee called to discuss the position of the headmaster of Summerhill Academy as a trial of the whole idea of the comprehensive school. That very point was made by R. F. Mackenzie in his peroration.

"It is the comprehensive school that is on trial today", he said. He went on to speak of children with wounds in their souls. "We could cure them, we could have cured them, but we were not allowed to, Mr. Chairman, because you have given us a divided staff".

Mr. Mackenzie's words were of no avail. The committee suspended him. The decision was taken by 16 votes to 6. Later he received a remarkably sympathetic Press. One of my colleagues, John Pirie, introduced his story with this sentence: "I accuse Aberdeen Education Committee of treachery". These were unusually emotive words with which to start a newspaper report but then it had been an unusually emotive occasion.

Mr. Mackenzie had in effect been suspended because a group of parents and, more significantly, a faction of his own staff, had objected to his policies.

There were side issues and there were more detailed arguments about documents and memoranda and reports and all the mnutiae of a bureaucratic dispute but at the end of the day the charge against Mr. Mackenzie was best summed up by Councillor Pirie:
"Mr. Mackenzie in my opinion is unwilling or unable to exercise authoritative control over his staff and secure the effective implementation of his policy, and he shows an apparent disregard for the need to win the confidence and co-operation of his staff".

Well, it was then and still is my chosen opinion that the education authority should have backed their headmaster - after all, they had appointed him in full awareness of his views - against the faction of his staff who would not support him.

Nevertheless, to be fair to Councillor Pirie, he spoke well and even movingly in deploying his case. He made a sincere speech. Equally impressive speeches were made by two of Mr. Mackenzie's supporters, Councillor Bob Middleton and Mr. Andrew Walls.

Mr. Mackenzie heard none of these arguments and speech's; as he recalls in this book, he sat outside, in an ante-room. But as the debate reached its climax he was called in to address the committee. As he said, it was a trial. The fatal verdict came; the judgement was passed; and the next day, judge and jury were accused of treachery and the pupils of Summerhill went on strike in protest.

On the Monday evening I visited Mr. Mackenzie in his farmhouse by the River Dee. A certain phrase Councillor Pirie had used earlier in the day kept insinuating itself in my mind: "The man is at the most critical point in his career - and yet he talks in parables".

The term parables had unavoidable Biblical connotations. Mr. Mackenzie is himself much given to quoting from the Bible. It is pleasant to recall now how that night I gradually realised that for the first time in my life I was in the presence of someone of genuine vision: a prophet. Earlier in the day Mr. Mackenzie had been accused of the "grossest arrogance" and no doubt most great prophets are sometimes arrogant in the certainty of their vision.

But that night Mr. Mackenzie discarded arrogance and spoke very gently. He talked in the soft Aberdeenshire accent he has never lost; he spoke of his parents and the sacrifices they had made for his own education, an education he had come to regard as worthless; he spoke of his own children; he spoke of the tyranny of examiners; he spoke of his love and care for young people; he referred to his favourite parable, that of the lost sheep. Above all, he talked of his new book, which even then was beginning to take shape in his mind.
(extract from The Unbowed Head)

Shock Protest over suspension
Evening Express, Tuesday, April 2, 1974
Written by David Smith and Jean Weir

Some of the pupils who walked out of Summerhill

Hundreds of pupils at Summerhill Academy today staged a mass walk-out in protest at the suspension of their headmaster, Mr. R. F. Mackenzie, by Aberdeen Education Committee.

News of the shock development in the Summerhill controversy was broken to both education convener, Councillor Roy Pirie, and Mr. Mackenzie by the "Evening Express."

Councillor Pirie's reaction was to urge parents to get their children back to school.

Mr. Mackenzie, speaking from his West Cults home, said: "I am immensely proud that the pupils feel so strongly about it that they should do this."

An he declared that he would not make any move to persuade the children to return to school.

Minutes after the walk-out, a deputation of pupils handed in a petition carrying about 200 names protesting at Mr. Mackenzie's suspension.
And four second-year girls handed in a letter to the "Evening Express" asking that Mr. Mackenzie by given another chance.

The schools deputy head, Mrs. Elizabeth Garret, closed the school until 2 p.m. to give the pupils an opportunity to go back.

An angry Councillor Pirie said: "The responsibility lies with the parents to ensure that their children attend school. This is a responsibility which clearly lies on their shoulders both in terms of the Education Act and their responsibility to their children."

When told of Mr. Mackenzie's attitude to the walk-out, Councillor Pirie said: " I would certainly say that he has a responsibility as a professional man. It would be out with his area of professional responsibility to make any suggestions which would encourage the children to stay off school."

"Undoubtedly what he is saying would tend to encourage those who are considering such a course of action as some justification."

There was no ..... firmly lay with the parents to ensure that their children received their education, he said.

On Mr. Mackenzie's statement, he said: "I am bound to point out that Mr. Mackenzie in this matter has no locus whatsoever. The problem must be solved by those who have a responsibility today."

He added: "The school opens again at 2 p.m. This is the intention. We have certain things which we are going into action on, irrespective of what happened this morning. We will still go ahead with the programme and it will be made public in due course."

Councillor Pirie revealed that he would be meeting the staff in the afternoon to "advise them of certain things."

Mr. Mackenzie, who had cleared his desk last night, and was spending his first day under suspension answering telephone call after call, said he would do nothing to make the children return to their classes.

He pointed out: "I think that the situation is now so serious - there is such a deep cleavage in the schools between the children going for "O" levels and Highers and the others that is going to be perpetuated when these people leave school and become adults."

"We are heading for the George Orwell 1984 situation where you have a wee group who run things and the rest who are just pushed around by the other elite."

"I think the disruptiveness which these pupils cause is due to the fact that there's nothing they can do about it so they pick up a stone and throw it through a window."

"There is a feeling of sheer frustration, anger and rejection. The situation is so serious for these children and the future of society, which well be more and more polarised, that I could not ask them to return to school."

"I feel their social grievances must first be met before they return. But yesterday's decision by Councillor Pirie and the education committee indicates that the Labour Party in Aberdeen supports the elitest situation and they are not really concerned for the grievances of these pupils."

The pupils' petition stated: "We stay out till he comes back."

The letter signed "Four second-year girls," read "We want Mr. Mackenzie back. We don't think it is fair. Every other school in town is just as bad as Summerhill; e.g. - every other school in Aberdeen has spray painting on the walls, they all smoke in school, they also play truant. I don't see why Summerhill should be picked on. We will keep on complaining."

"And if they don't give Mr. Mackenzie another try we will go on strike."

It went on: "P.S. - Give him one more chance please. Mr. Mackenzie was trying to make Summerhill a good school. Why not give him another chance?"

* The pupils returned to school at 2 p.m. but five minutes later about 600 children left their classes again and ran out of the school building.

Many were chanting and singing "We shall not be moved."

(end - Article from Evening Express)

1976 - The Unbowed Head is published

The Unbowed Head
Text taken from the back cover of the Unbowed Head:

Here, after two and a half years, is RF. Mackenzie's own story of the headline-catching events at Summerhill Academy in Aberdeen, culminating in his suspension as headmaster and creating one of the most controversial and highly publicised incidents Scottish education has ever witnessed.

Exceptionally readable and entertaining, Mr. Mackenzie's book serves as a profound indictment on the state of Scottish education today. He succeeds in giving a remarkable insight into, staff, pupils, administrators and politicians involved in the schools system.

Particularly relevant as part of the ongoing debate on Scotland's future, citing education as the prime area for reform and change, this story goes to the heart of the present controversy on comprehensive schooling.

Press on the book above for a fuller account of what is to be found in this book.

1987 - R.F Mackenzie dies peacefully at home:

newspaper clipping

He was brought back to the farmhouse in November of that year to be with his family. He died peacefully on 21 December just as the formal announcement was made that Summerhill Academy was to be phased out as a school.

West Cults FarmMackenzie's body was laid out in the front parlour in the traditional fashion before the removal to the crematorium just outside Aberdeen. Douglas Lister, who had been his school chaplain at Braehead and who was a friend of the family, phoned to ask if he could come and be in attendance at the funeral which Diana and the family had agreed should be private - family members only. Douglas Lister's request was agreed to, but on the understanding that there was to be no sermonising at the crematorium service. Neil, his elder son, however read some extracts from his father's book, State School, relating to his school trip to the island of Rhum with pupils from Braehead.

Neil recalls that it was a fine, crisp, sunny, December day when the funeral cortege moved off from the farmhouse and Mackenzie made his last journey up the narrow twisting path from the banks of the River Dee on to the North Deeside Road and from there to the crematorium just outside Aberdeen on the road to Alford, almost within sighting distance of Bennachie, the hill that he had often contemplated from afar as a child in his native Garoch.
It was a quite and dignified end.

(extract from
Peter Murphy's book)

Press Cutting below - Paper unknown:
Ban-the-belt education pioneer dies

Former Summerhill Academy headmaster Mr. Robert Mackenzie, who was sacked for banning the belt, has died. He was 76.

Mr. Mackenzie, West Cults Farm, Aberdeen, was at the centre of one of the most controversial battles in Scottish educational history when he clashed head-on with Aberdeen Education Committee.

His radical ideas on a humane approach to education split the school's staff and made national headlines and when he was suspended 1300 pupils staged a protest strike.

One of those former pupils, at the Aberdeen School, Mrs. Rosalie Sheard, Burnbrae Crescent, said last night: 'He was always ahead of his time. Many of his ideas are now in practice in schools.'

Mrs. Sheard organised a reunion of former pupils and staff of Summerhill last year to honour Mr. Mackenzie and more than 250 attended.

Mr. Mackenzie fought for most of his career to liberalise Scottish education and his controversial theories included banning exams and corporal punishment and the setting up of pupil councils to set basic school rules.

Born in Aberdeenshire he was educated at Robert Gordon's College and Aberdeen University and he taught at Galashiels and Kirkcaldy before becoming headmaster of Braehead School, Buckhaven, Fife, in 1957.

It was at Braehead that he described Aberdeen Grammar School and Robert Gordon's College as two of the worst schools in Scotland because of their emphasis on exam results.

But this did not stop him being appointed Summerhill's headmaster in 1968 and over the next six years he gradually introduced the liberal regime which was to split the staff.

Some of the teachers organised themselves into a group to oppose his ideas on discipline. When the dispute reached the education committee they suspended him in 1974 for his refusal to allow corporal punishment in the school.

Mr. Mackenzie felt he was vindicated in 1982 when the European Court of Human Rights backed parents who wanted the belt banned.

Over the last 13 years he has written many articles and books and lectured around Britain. Apart from the belt many of his ideas like continuous assessment of children are now accepted practice in schools.

Just two weeks ago he told a former colleague: 'The thing that I fear greatly is the hardness of heart of the educated.'

Mr. Mackenzie is survived by his wife Diana, two sons and a daughter.
(end - paper unknown)

More Newspaper tributes to R.F Mackenzie's life ...

1989 - A Search for Scotland is published

A Search for Scotland - Hard Back Cover
Text from the cover Hard back edition:

This, R.F. Mackenzie's last book, reflects at its most brilliant his lifelong love of Scotland: the wild, grand Highlands from which his forebearers came, the settled countryside of Aberdeenshire in which he was brought up, the romantic beauties of the Borders where he spent his first years of marriage. He responds to the character of each, to their history no less than to their relation to the Scotland of today. It is not just the countryside, though his feeling for that combines the strengths of poet and peasant. The towns and cities, the industrial landscape, the ports, large and active or small and forgotten, the roads and railways, above all the railways (he was the son of a country stationmaster) are perceived and evoked with a rare mastery.

Simply as a travel book about Scotland this book would enrich any journey made there. But the author would have been disgusted by such a classification. Like Ruskin, he writes about what he sees in order to stimulate reflection - he would have gone further and said action - on what lies behind the seen: the moral quality of society. Like Carlyle, he is a visionary with a Cromwellian contempt for the fripperies and baubles for which he sees his countrymen contending. The result is a book that has the unselfconscious individuality, the wholeness, the savour, the gout du terroir of a fine malt whisky.

A Search for Scotland - Paper Back CoverYet for all his passionate patriotism Mackenzie is in no way provincial. As a young man he taught in Switzerland and in Nazi Germany. He served as aircrew in Bomber Command. He travelled widely in Europe. He could, as his chapter on Scottish religion shows, enter sympathetically into the mentality of the Boer Calvinists among whom he had lived while in war service in South Africa. These experiences, and those gained from his turbulent career as a radical headmaster in the tradition of A. S. Neill, inform his insights.

Whatever the reader may think of his diagnosis and prescription for the ills of contemporary humanity he will find the author a vivid, imaginative and warm hearted companion, with a feeling for Scottish life and the riches of Scottish speech that he will not easily forget.

Press on the book above for a fuller account of what is to be found in this book.

1998 - The Life of R.F. Mackenzie by Peter Murphy is published

The Life of R.F. Mackenzie'My own interest in Mackenzie stemmed not just from my fond memories of the three dramatic years I had spent with him as his Principal Teacher of English at Summerhill, but with my own career as Headteacher newly over, the debt I recognised I now owed him for much of the success I had as a teacher. The realisation that no-one had written an official biography of a man I considered to be one of the most influential educationists of our time led to my getting in touch, through Alasdair, with Diana, his widow, who readily gave me access to his papers. Once I had seen the wealth of material he had left, including diaries and journals covering much of his earlier life, I realised that there was a task needing to be done - not just by way of repaying a debt but to restore to a great man a measure of the esteem he is due for a life spent in the service of humanity.'

Peter Murphy tells what inspired him to write this book on the life of R.F. Mackenzie.
(the above is an extract from Peter's book)

Press on the book above for a fuller account of what is to be found in this book.

2002 - Seminar in Aberdeen, 5th October:

2004 - Seminar in Aberdeen, 9th October:
This seminar is planned to take place in Aberdeen on Saturday 9th October.
More information and details about this meeting will be posted here and on the web site as it becomes available

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