Moments of surrealism keep us sane

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
One of my favourite films is Gregory's Girl, a funny light-hearted story about teenagers which was made in 1981 and filmed in Cumbernauld, of all places.

A great deal of the action centres around a school, the headie of which, played by Chic Murray, seemed to spend most of the time playing the piano in the assembly hall. I often return to this cameo during the awful trudge through the spring term: it cheers me a little.

One of the other reasons for liking this film so much is its many surreal moments. Among my favourites is the giant penguin frequently to be seen in the background wandering around the school. Anyone with any real knowledge of schools knows that often that surreality is our very reality.

I had one of these moments recently on returning to school after a meeting.

As I turned into the drive, not one but two huge horses, with manes flying wildly, galloped towards my car. My presence at least stopped them from galloping straight into the oncoming traffic of a busy road but had the unfortunate effect of diverting them straight into our car park. The lunch bell was about to go and any minute hundreds of children would be spilling out of the school.

I blocked the entrance to the car park with my car. I needn't have worried since the cavalry were coming. Round the corner into the car park my depute came racing, followed by a dozen girls complete with bridles and reins. At this point I was unclear whether they were chasing the horses or the depute. The reins and bridles were courtesy of the art department's still life store, I subsequently found out.

Within no time at all, the horses were being led calmly back to the field from which they had escaped and, as the hordes left school on the bell, the only sign that anything untoward had gone on was a little horse manure in the car park.

My depute was the hero of the day. Unfortunately for him, the whole debacle had been eagerly observed by our office staff. He is not going to be allowed to forget his exploits in a hurry; not in the mornings when he is greeted by "Howdy partner", nor as he goes about his business while someone in the background whistles "Whip crack away ..." and least of all when he goes to his pigeonhole with the toy model of Harry Horse on top of the stack.

These are the moments which keep us going in schools. A colleague said to me recently that she goes from high to low in her job, detesting it one moment, only to come across a cameo which sends her into kinks the next. I can relate to that and it is particularly relevant to the spring term, which is such a difficult one.

Discipline problems reach their peak in that term, just as teachers'

workloads are at their heaviest and energy levels at their lowest. It's a powder keg just waiting to blow and it's a miracle if it doesn't.

So, as we cajole, persuade and often drag senior pupils onwards to finish their folios, do revision and practise past papers, while getting all the last-minute SQA paperwork done - not forgetting all the options sessions with S2, S4 and S5 pupils and the parents' information evenings - it can be difficult to remember the good times.

I had to focus on precisely that aspect of the school, however, as I compiled the end of term newsletter. While so much else is going on, I always end up being grateful by the time it has gone out because I am heartened by all the great things which our young people and our staff do.

Not least was when I heard our entry for Strathclyde in Harmony, a music competition organised by Strathclyde Police. I had tears in my eyes when I listened to the choir singing a beautiful song written by one of our S4 girls, "On the inside, we are all the same". The choir went on to win the competition and is now recording a CD.

I was also delighted that our public speakers and debaters were talking for Scotland across the nation and pleased that so many staff continue to take countless clubs and activities.

I try to reduce the newsletter every time it goes out. This one went out with nine pages jam-packed with good news about our young people. I couldn't bring myself to cut anything out. The next one, in June, will be even longer, since it will cover the summer term.

I think I'll look out my piano books and spend a lot of time in the hall.

In the background will be a lot of guys in leathers and girls in dirndls and bobby socks. Yes, we are doing Grease.

Linda Kirkwood is headteacher of Oban HighIf you have any comments, email

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