Don't miss the bus to college

SUNDAY morning finds me at the local bus garage seeking timetable information. I'm invited into the inner sanctum. "I need to know the routes and times for buses to Clydebank from Great Western Road."

"Right. Can you wait till I get my glasses?" He takes away my old timetable, comes back, looks doubtful. "It shouldn't have changed that much. They'll be much the same."

My brow clouds with visions of complaints from the college about the late arrival of our students, of complaints from our students that they've waited for 50 minutes with no buses. He sees my hesitation. "Do you live local? Call in tomorrow? I'll look out a couple of timetables for you. But you'll need to remind me when you come in. I'll have forgotten."

Some years ago links with another local college were made more tentative by the lack of any attendance returns. On the stairs you would engage pupils in conversation the following day. "We were rag-rolling yesterday, next week we're doing Artex with a wet sponge." Relief that they were attending was tempered by stray thoughts that perhaps they had acquired a gloss patina in deception at their painting and decorating course.

The two girls at motor maintenance were always happy to recount the latest adventures of the crankshaft, and confidence grew that you hadn't instituted a wholesale policy of free Wednesday afternoons.

College links have come a long way from the dumping ground for non-certificate pupils, although I remember a frisson of delight at signing up an awkward customer for an Outward Bound leadership course, rather than inflict him on our English and maths departments for a sixth unhappy year. No doubt the Nautical College and John Ridgway between them will make a man of him.

Supercool they may appear, but some present-day pupils need confidence to take even the baby step of an afternoon away from the school environment. One minor triumph in Glasgow is getting pupils to cross the river - the barren wastelands of the south side hold more terrors than Alaska.

At university clearing time, the reluctance of one student to take up a place at Paisley owed nothing to relative ratings in the higher education quality tables and everything to the fact that she didn't know where Paisley was.

Not that it pays to enquire too closely of potential truants. I remember quizzing one pupil after the attendant record showed she was absent.

Clear-eyed and without demur she replied: "That must have been the afternoon I was in the family planning clinic."

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