It's hard to walk the middle of the road

1st December 2006 at 00:00
Another bad week for Scottish youth. According to statisticians, they are most likely to binge drink and be involved in unwanted pregnancy, and are mostly too fat to be considered for the armed services.

Considering this on my way home from school, stuck in traffic, I looked about me. It was shortly after six, just after the clocks had gone back. On one side of the road, a procession of pupils got off the buses; they carried bags of books, or sports kit, or musical instruments. They were headed home after a round of extra-curricular endeavours. On the other side, the tracksuit brigade were beginning to gather for their nightly vigil outside the petrol station. You didn't need to be an education researcher to work out who had the better prospects.

As the traffic crawled, I pondered my probable agenda for the next day. I'd be visited by some principal teachers who would give me the names of pupils who looked like they'd never be able to handle the Higher or Intermediate 2 course for which they had been entered, and whom they would like moved to another course. I might get phone calls from parents, possibly of those same pupils, telling me that, despite evidence to the contrary, their son was able to gain a Higher; he was even reconciled to doing homework and would meet deadlines, so there was no way they'd agree to him dropping to Intermediate 2. In the afternoon, our regular meeting with HQ would focus on how we would continue to raise attainment at Higher, while widening the number of vocational options available and concentrating on support for the "bottom 20 per cent".

Moving through the lights, I wondered if there was a proverb that stated:

"Man who tries to walk on both sides of street gets run down on central reservation".

At home, the sports pages offered some consolation. Under a picture of Hibs's new, young and ambitious manager was the headline: "Consistency is the answer". And he's right: despite being pulled in many directions, all we can do is try to give pupils, consistently, the course choice and support that is best and most appropriate for each of them, in all their differing needs - and to the best of our ability.

Sean McPartlinis depute head of St Margaret's Academy, Livingston

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