Bursting at the seams but no desire to say 'no';School Management;The Sweeney

8th January 1999 at 00:00
The traffic on the Edinburgh by-pass is nose-to-tail at the moment. You may think that this is related to extensive roadworks or to accelerated movement of population towards the hub of Scottish democracy. In fact, the procession of Pickford's lorries blocking the road appears to be caused by a mass movement of families into the Holy Rood catchment area.

Hardly a day goes by without a request for admission coming our way. Generally, these are very welcome as they demonstrate increased confidence in the school on the part of its community. It is largely because of placing requests that the roll of the school has soared from 550 in 1993 to 850 this year.

Edinburgh has embraced freedom of choice for parents with passionate enthusiasm. This probably has its roots in the independent sector, since private schools take a substantial chunk of the capital's youth and make geniuses of them by a secret formula unknown to the rest of us.

Then there is the parents' charter. Folk in the west have tended to use the charter sparingly, except in the case of a few target schools which attract admissions because of special circumstances. In Edinburgh, even at primary level, schools are closely scrutinised for suitability and the little people of the capital are sent scuttling in large numbers across the city in search of educational and social betterment.

Holy Rood has six associated primary schools, but we receive pupils from over 30 primaries at the beginning of Secondary 1. This causes us some problems in offering continuity from Primary 7 to S1, since information comes to us in all shapes and sizes, with levels, grades and marks all recorded according to local custom.

The guidance team offers a family interview to every child arriving from associated primary schools, and records any problems which transition may present for the children. This is a time-consuming process but it pays dividends in ensuring a smooth transition from primary to secondary school.

Ensuring that children from other schools have equal attention can be problematic. Our written information has to be of high quality, since we have verylimited opportunities to meet a large section of our prospective parents. We have developed a user-friendly guide for parents entitled "Emma Goes to Holy Rood". One visiting cynic has suggested that this really means "Intelligent, hard-working girls go to Holy Rood. Grubby boys should not apply". This, of course, is not the case.

While S1 placing requests can be managed comfortably, even when they account for 25 per cent of the intake, the admission of pupils during the course of the session is a drain on management resources, and creates difficulties for teachers who are presented with different groups of pupils every other week. Holy Rood responded to over 50 requests for admission between August and December this session. Many of these children have particular difficulties, and moving around the city does little for the continuity of their educational experience.

It is interesting to ask parents making placing requests why they have chosen Holy Rood High. If we expect them to refer to the headteacher's trenchant educational philosophy or even to good examination results, we will frequently be disappointed. School uniform, friends at the school, pastoral care of pupils or even sporting facilities figure much more frequently as determining factors. Previously undiscovered Catholic grannies get an occasional mention.

We don't make the rules, and so the daily trickle of new pupils continues unabated. While we can instantly foresee that a change of school is not the panacea expected for particular individuals, we do our best to meet their needs.

However, somebody somewhere needs to consider whether perpetual motion and educational progress are compatible.

In the meantime, Holy Rood's New Year song for these families joining our school community remains "Come in, come in. It's nice to see you".

Pat Sweeney is headteacher of Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh

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