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Farewell, adieu, goodbye

My big sister still calls me Patrick, but the rest of the world has adopted the diminutive Pat. This old-fashioned handle amuses pupils, as the only person they know with this name is the Gaelic-speaking postman of that ilk.

To be reduced in the autumn of my career to the definite article "The" has been a shock to my system. David Henderson, permanent scribbler with this august organ of the Scottish educational press, delights in addressing me simply as "The". Alas, The Sweeney will rant no more.

The first Sweeney column was a cri de coeur against the insanity of the hierarchical approach to national targets. This centralist tendency characterised the management of education under governments of both the pinkish blue and bluish pink varieties, although the Day of the Jack has brought a glimmer of enlightenment.

The Sweeney has been a unique opportunity to celebrate the very best of Holy Rood, the uniquely successful drama department, Marney Queen, head of English magically metamorphosed into learning and teaching guru, and June, the supersonic bursar leading the most dedicated office staff in the business. The adventures of our management team, as we sat in the Sheriff Court to testify against Benny the Biker or tried inconspicuously to spy on the school buses at Portobello Cross, have entered into the educational folklore of the nation.

I have tried over the past four years not to allow my doppelganger in the educational press to interfere with the daily round of Sweeney, the headteacher. However, in spite of this restraint, the tale of A. Duffer, the teacher who refused to come to school because he knew that Yougo the Kenyan would do his work, cathartically evoked a situation on the home front.

It is satisfying but scary to discover 100 Sweeney columns on the TES website. They have covered every aspect of school life from buses and bullying to security and salaries. I have enjoyed being contentious, occasionally mischievous and regularly provocative.

As the sixth year pupils, which would have included John Michael Murray, prepare to leave school, I recall the pain of composing a tribute to him and his family following the accident on millennium morning which prematurely snatched away his life. I had the privilege of expressing for the printed page the grief which others would convey through cards and flowers.

As these last rantings of the Sweeney topple from my pen, the telephone rings. I am informed that my days are numbered, not only as The Sweeney but also as headteacher of Holy Rood, as I have been offered the post of headteacher of St Margaret's Academy in Livingston.

It is a poignant moment for me as I recall the magnificent management colleagues who have both savoured the satisfaction and shared the burden of the past eight years. The heroic commitment of the unstinting Holy Rood staff, who have brought about an unparalleled surge in the school roll from 550 in 1994 to 1,091 in 2002, brings a deep sense of admiration and gratitude.

I recall the performance of The Roodtones, when 35 teachers and support staff staged a two-hour evening concert for parents and pupils. I reflect on the senior promenade dance, where teachers outnumbered leavers, as they bopped the night away at the Roxburghe Hotel.

I ruefully ponder my recent recruits to principal teacher level, Joan Conway, Jim Mulligan and Ken Taylor, who will succeed with or without Sweeney. I bid farewell with a heavy heart to Frank Quinn, tireless chair of our school board for the past six years, whose contribution to the progress of Holy Rood is beyond telling. His outstretched hand of Irish welcome, his all-knowing laugh and his preference for striking a light rather than cursing the darkness have rescued the bleakest moments and gilded the glistening success stories.

Together we have done our best for the young people of Holy Rood. Their increasing success and fulfilment is our reward.

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time

(Longfellow)

Pat Sweeney is headteacher at Holy Rood High, Edinburgh, until September 22

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