I know them, Horatio, fellows of infinite talent

16th June 2000 at 01:00
The sixth-year pupils who came to Holy Rood from primary and will leave this summer arrived in the school on the same day that I was appointed as headteacher. If those first days were scary for them, they were even more daunting for me as I stood to address them.

I had spent five years working in the education authority and I agonised about how I would cope back in the harsh reality of a secondary school. But the past six years have persuaded me of the inestimable value of the broader perspective gained during that period.

I have to confess to a soft spot for these young people who shared my initiation to Holy Rood. They numbered about 130, whereas the current intake is near to double that figure, making the task of memorising names and faces proportionately more challenging. They have turned out to be an excellent year group who have left their stamp in tangible ways.

Susan Wanstall can look forward to a career in politics or advocacy of some kind. From an early age, she would raise issues on behalf of her peers and would demonstrate tenacity coupled with politeness in demanding a response.

Why did she have a succession of different teachers at a particular point in her school career? Could the pupil council have somewhere more suitable to meet? Why did school buses not arrive on time? Susan became chair of the pupil council and provided an outstanding role model for younger pupils.

Susan is a dancer and she and her classmates, Charlene Lorimer and Lee Woodsell, have created one of our most effective mechanisms of primary liaison, as their dance show toured our associated primary schools. They have also provided an immensely popular lunch-time activity for younger pupils who seek to emulate their high-kicking skills.

This is particularly comforting to Kathy Devine, teacher of PE and dance, who can no longer pirouette as she once did.

When Andrew Smith's family moved to East Lothian, he was determined to remain at Holy Rood. He has had to use a wheelchair occasionally to get around, but mostly he has covered the broad campus of Holy Rood n foot with dogged determination, through a school career punctuated with several stays in hospital.

Imran Parvaiz adopted the role of statesman for ethnic minorities within the school. He is keen that his companions should understand the problems faced by black and Asian families.

When his peers are dressed up in Scottish kilts for their formal dance, Imran will proudly don the national attire of his native Pakistan. His home-made pakoras provided physical and spiritual sustenance during the year group's overnight charity vigil.

Amanda Hunter has strolled through six Highers, with her sights set on a career in medicine. Already, she displays qualities of understanding and empathy, the basis for an effective bedside manner in future years.

Amanda knows all about pain and suffering, as she is a diehard Celtic fan. She is also a fully paid-up member of the drama luvvies and will remain in school, after everyone else has gone, to complete rehearsals for The Importance of Being Ernest, which they are not.

This year has seen the emergence of a coterie of bright scientists. They have sought the exhilaration of snowboarding to complement sombre scientific analysis, and there are several neck-braces and splints in evidence, attesting to the hazards of defying the laws of gravity.

Alongside these frivolities our sixth year have participated in an extensive paired reading programme, organised by Aileen Armstrong of learning support, and have worked with a primary school on peer mediation under the guidance of our educational psychologist.

They leave us with qualifications and skills, equipping them for an increasingly complex and demanding job market. We trust that they will also carry in their portfolio values which will withstand the test of time and which will still have currency when the content of their curriculum is long forgotten.

As Oscar Wilde remarked: "Education is an honourable thing, but it is well to remember that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught".

Pat Sweeney is headteacher at Holy Rood High, Edinburgh

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