A day in the life of parents of four
The last bell of term has special significance in our household: for the first time in 28 years, we'll have no one left at school, as the last wee Dougherty leaves at the end of her sixth year at Glasgow's Holyrood Secondary.
It's been quite a 28 years since our first, young Shug, answered the Primary 1 bell at St Mirin's in 1981 and entered an education world in which the belt was still used, Standard grade was on the drawing board and parent power consisted of being told by the heidie that the school's lunch hour was being changed.
We've seen initiatives come and go, from PTAs and primary testing to Higher Still and the BBC computers that Shug first used. We mustn't forget, too, the argument, started around the time he went to secondary in 1987, that something needed to be done about S1-2 - and 22 years on, we're still waiting.
But the real question is: did the Dougherty Four get their money's worth out of the Scottish school system? I would have to say that they did, and you can put me and Mrs D down as satisfied customers overall. The state system delivered, and delivered well.
Our children have had some inspired teachers and teaching, in primary and secondary; equally, duffers did exist. And, let's be frank, all the efforts to systematise learning and to make it easier for the less-than- able teachers to deliver, didn't really work. I can always remember one of Mary's really inspired P1 teachers saying that she managed to continue to do things her way, despite the system - and, by God, could she teach.
If I want to boast about my kids, please let me, for, as bright youngsters, they should have done well, and they did - despite the efforts of their pushy parents who, both pretty well-tuned into education, were often the stuff of teachers' nightmares.
But our four were workers and went on to university with a crop of Highers that have taken the first to be a news editor of the London Evening Standard, the second a doctor, the third a lawyer and our fourth will start modern languages at university in September. They've all emerged from school as quite normal human beings, despite their genetic inheritance. Best of all for us as practising Catholics, their faith was nurtured by the schools; all four still practise and have never stopped doing so.
Throughout, the amount of pastoral care and personal interest that their teachers invested in them was impressive. All four had the benefit of work placements, extra-curricular activities and residential experiences. But careers guidance, especially for academic children, was virtually non- existent.
Best of all, after 28 years, we're free of parents' evenings, those awful waits in corridors while you work out how to tell a certain teacher that they should really have thought of having another career.
But we will miss that age-old answer, "fine", to the classic question: "How was school today, ShugBrendanCiaranMary?" Fine indeed - and thanks to all the heidies and teachers along the way.
Hugh Dougherty is a parent.