Staff Spotlight: House Parent Dan Mclean

In our Staff Spotlight series we are speaking with our fantastic Gordonstoun staff, exploring their lifetime highs and lows and getting an insight into what makes them tick. Meet Dan Mclean, House Parent, theologian, boat enthusiast and much more!

Tell me a bit about yourself, what you do, and how long have you worked at Gordonstoun.

This is my second year here at Gordonstoun as the House Parent of Cumming. I am responsible for 59 boys between the ages of 13 and 18 and I also teach sociology, boat building, and at the moment I’m teaching some basic bookbinding to some of the boys. I’m also running a service project to Swona, it’s a little uninhabited Island in Orkney where we will be working restoring buildings and doing conservation and ecological work. All sorts of things, good fun!

What has been happening in Cumming lately?

There's been a lot going on around campus in the last few weeks leading up to Christmas, but overall I think Cumming is a calm place. It’s a place where you get a lot of mixing between year groups and mixing between friendship groups. We’ve always got events going on like all the houses with our socials and inter house school competitions, but day to day, it’s a happy, quiet, calm home to go to.

What is the best thing about being a HP at Gordonstoun?

It’s the privilege of being involved in so many people's lives, in such a formative time. The ages of 13 to 18 are important years for all of us, and they’re not necessarily the smoothest years of anyone’s life. The privilege of, in some way, having a positive role in that process is just so satisfying. It’s the little things, it's not just the GCSE results, or the University offer, it's the satisfaction of when they come back from an Exped, or the excitement when they come back from their Sail Training Voyage, or just being able to help when things aren't great.

When I started working in boarding I thought that when things aren’t great in someone's life, that might be the most stressful part. But actually knowing we can do something to help, and we have the privilege to be able to try, is one of the most satisfying parts of the job.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I think probably, because it was so unexpected for me, publishing books. I’ve written two history books and I had no idea, particularly with my background being theology not history, that I’d have hardback books with my name on the cover.

It began after I discovered an old leather suitcase suitcase full of letters from the Somme in a cellar. I opened them up and realised that underneath were all the letters home from school from a boy when he was 13 until he left school: school reports, bills, photos, everything, - including the telegram to his parents to inform them he had been killed in 1916. That really inspired me and I went to visit his grave in France, and then a month later I had a contract to write my first book.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

You’re asking a theologian about perfect happiness, how long have you got!

Outside of term time I live in Orkney, and so being on my little island, and having a boat with which to put out some creels to get Lobster for dinner, and then coming back to cook dinner for friends.

What is your best memory with a student?

The most satisfying is that in the 12 years I’ve become a teacher I have five former pupils who are now Religious Studies teachers themselves. I got into teaching because I thought the subject was great, and I thought other people should think it’s great, so to have had five students who have then gone on to decide that that’s what they want to do themselves, that's the most satisfying bit.

What is your favourite joke?

I’m not very funny! Something I’ve realised is that since I’ve become a teacher, that background knowledge of people of my age, of British comedy from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s is no longer there, Blackadder for example. Modern teenagers can’t quote Blackadder, and it baffles me!

What’s your greatest challenge as a house parent?

Patience with the unpredictability of 59 teenagers. Actually, I think it's a job where either you lose patience and then don’t stay because you don’t enjoy it, or you stick at it, and you develop that patience. You’ve not seen it all, but nothing can take you by surprise. You never know what’s going to happen next and therefore you take life as it comes and get on with things.

What is something surprising about you?

That I once was really quite sporty and did lots of rowing! I think most people would be surprised to imagine me as ever having been very sporty.

What talent would you most like to have?

To play the violin properly, I’ve been learning recently but just teaching myself. Or, to be able to speak German fluently, with the German history of Gordonstoun I’d love to be able to participate in it.

Is there a quote or saying you live your life by?

With my theological background, I take groups to Pluscarden Abbey, a Benedictine monastery on the other side of Elgin. There’s a quote that I think is very relevant to that, the beginning of Psalm 133: “Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity”. I think in a boarding house, if you try to get on, life’s better for everyone. If you dwell in unity, if you live together tolerating others and looking for the positives in them, behold how good and how pleasant it is.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Lorne sausage with HP sauce in a bread roll. It takes so little time I can even dash back between lessons and make one.

Interested in becoming a House Parent or working at Gordonstoun? We're always looking for talented individuals to join the Gordonstoun team. Discover our latest vacancies here or send us your cv to