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Cool cats on a hot tin roof;Opinion

EDINBURGH HAS rejected sixth-form colleges as the answer to the final year of school, but the problem remains - how can we retain and sustain those senior pupils who traditionally have contributed to the successful stability of a Scottish comprehensive?

In the autumn we shuttled our sixth-year English studies group to Pitlochry to see a Tennessee Williams play. It was a wet midweek night and as I approached Charing Cross just after midnight, planning my passengers' route home, two asked brightly to be dropped in town: "We're going to Archaos to a birthday party."

Last month a younger pupil, being encouraged to complete a folio redraft between Friday and Monday, was seen returning the piece surreptitiously to her folder. "The weekend is my own," she said in response to my query.

If clubbing and a social life are sacrosanct, then so, too, are job working hours. To maintain any teenage lifestyle worthy of the name requires employment, and minimum wages often conspire with maximum hours to the detriment of educational progress.

Politicians and the law complain about attendance rates, but students over 16 can write their own notes, and a hard line on absence would empty the sixth years even faster than currently.

Nor will the putative benefits of Higher Still work towards improving affairs. A few students may enter the second year of certain university courses with Advanced Highers, but not all subjects are studied at school, and it's arguable whether the direct jump to that level of study is a sensible one.

For candidates with unconditional entry from fifth year, the hope is that courses which are of interest, a social context to parts of the curriculum and a relationship with staff that seems more understanding will still supply a worthwhile sixth year.

However, financial pressure to fund university life is definitely feeding back into schools - with able candidates having a gap year (in or out of school) to amass funds for the next stage of their studies. Glasgow's ill-fated experiment with consortium schools only led to Advanced Bus Studies for students, not to worthwhile courses.

The changed atmosphere of a sixth year benefits one boy I know who manages school life arguably better than the headteacher himself - setting up pupil discos, organising parents' nights, liaising with janitors, staff and the senior management team.

Aware of his importance, he has recently taken to sporting a gold chain round his neck and insisting that the staff call him "the provost".

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