My 2,356 reasons to change;Comment;Opinion

30th January 1998 at 00:00
Glasgow's education committee wants viable secondary schools with rolls of around 1,000. As a teacher in Holyrood Secondary, the council can count on my support. Three years ago, The TES Scotland published an article by me that highlighted the problems of teaching in a school with a roll of just over 2,000. Today the roll is 2,356, largely due to the closure of nearby John Bosco Secondary. Given that nearby St Margaret Mary's future is as clear as Labour's policy on tobacco sponsorship, the Holyrood roll is likely to increase.

Thankfully the policy document Every Child is Special helps keep staff focused on the needs of the individual pupil. When the top beaks at the council hatched the closure plan they were put under a great deal of pressure due to the Bosco board using the opt-out procedure to stymie change. The resulting delay led to a less than smooth transition. As a consequence of Holyrood's June timetable, the refugees (bar the fledging first-years) arrived four weeks into the session creating a clutch of timetabling challenges (not problems!).

There was a bedding-in period as former Bosco pupils attempted to adapt to a new environment. Previously they were free-range pupils, some 400 of them occupying a barn of a school built for 1,500 where they had rooms to roam and space to stretch their wings. Somewhat unwillingly they were plucked from their local school and the council, by putting all its eggs into one basket, made Holyrood even more cost-efficient.

Some ex-Boscovites find it difficult being cooped up in classes of maximum sizes. Former John Bosco staff given posts in Holyrood have entered a brave new world of having no classroom to call their own. The accommodation crisis is crystallised by the management confession that a "sin bin" cannot operate as no room is available.

With a staff complement of 162, there is room for a multiplicity of cliques to flourish. Forget bonhomie. Anomie rules. An indication of this was the decision at the start of the session for staff to wear name badges. As I write, the badges have not appeared but a rumour that the technical teachers have been instructed to make up branding irons has brought sweat to the forehead. But help is at hand. A hitherto unknown pressure group, Compassion In Education, is pressing for change. It has distanced itself from the PLF (Pupil Liberation Front) whose direct action strategy of sending in snatch squads to reduce rolls to a more manageable 1,000 has been criticised by education officials. I managed to interview the leader of Compassion.

"Battery education is wrong", he said. "The emphasis is on productive yield - Higher passes, Standard grades, league tables - rather than pupil welfare. Consequently the conditions for students are often very poor. Many people object to this type of education on moral as well as health grounds. Kids need space." I pointed out that a new information technology wing, the most modern building of its kind in Scotland, complete with its networked computers, had been built in the girls' yard. He pointed out the irony of my statement. "But what about the temporary classroom complex?" I asked. He gave a quizzical look. "Oh you means the dozen or so huts. They've gone from huts, to hutments, to temporary classroom complex. You must have been an estate agent in a former life."

I considered mentioning the proposed sports hall which, with the help of private finance initiative money, may be constructed in the next few years. However the fact that it will be situated on the one existing football pitch leaving the hockey field as the only outdoor amenity for the largest school in Britain caused me to remain silent. The bell rang to signal a period changeover. The spokesman hurled himself into the sea of children and disappeared as the current dragged him to the exit doors at the end of the corridor.

Hugh Reilly's humorous story, Kelly is available, price pound;4.50 from bookshops or from Embros Publications, 104 Colston Road, Glasgow, G64 1SE.

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