29th August 2003 at 01:00
THE adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity must have a hollow ring to it in the hallowed halls of Huchesons' Grammar School in Glasgow as the new session begins.

The stushie sparked off at the independent school by the abrupt departure of long-serving depute rector Sandy Strang has given the education community its version of the Hutton inquiry website, www.parentsforhutchie.


The site is intended as a forum for parents to voice opinions on the causes and possible impact of Mr Strang's departure, but the attempt to create transparency and improve communication has resulted in what one parent described as "a tragedy for pupils, parents and the dedicated teacher - if any remain much longer", as everyone piles in with their tuppenceworth.

While there is some support for beleaguered rector John Knowles and the governors, the overall mood is of bemusement, regret and anger at the school's internal difficulties becoming public, made worse by direct criticism of some members of staff and the previous rector.

More worrying for the school is the number of parents expressing doubts about sending their children. "My child is about to start Hutchie. Have I made a mistake?"

Another "worried parent" declares: "If I had known all of this was going to blow up I would have chosen to invest my children's education with the Academy or the High School. I am also sure the parents' (sic) of next year's entrants will be thinking the same and watching carefully."

There is a cheeky listing from "a former pupil of a selective school" who sings the praises of state schools for helping to make their children "socially rounded individuals who have not sought to use their second level education to gain advantage over equally well-educated contemporaries".

The possible causes of these divisions are reflected in two separate website messages. "I am trying to come up with the advantage to Hutchie in Mr Strang's departure . . . in the light of (his) departure my confidence in the school and the governors is eroded," a parent says. A former pupil states: "I have been concerned for some time about the move away from the values that made the school the great institution it was and still should be."

One parent makes a plea for "a change of tone" in the debate because "it is horrifying to think that parents from other private schools can tune in and prospective customers can take their children (and money) elsewhere".

Derek Mason, chairman of the board of governors, made a rare public intervention this week to criticise "anonymous sources" supplying information to the media about the school.

The furore broke as the school last week celebrated its best Higher results since 1996, with 32 per cent of the fifth year achieving a minimum of five passes at grade A. The overall pass rate of 91 per cent was the same as last year while the percentage of pupils who achieved A grades rose by almost 10 percentage points to 59 per cent.

But 12 other independent schools notched up a greater number of Higher passes, further fuelling parental divisions. One of those that recorded a 100 per cent pass rate, however, had only one pupil in S5. Hutchesons' had the largest S5 entry group in Scotland for this year's Highers - 262 - while its Glasgow rivals, the Academy and the High School, had just 99 each.

Mr Mason said: "This much broader population inevitably affects our averaged figures."

The former Tory councillor added pointedly: "We are, however, proud that we foster the abilities and aspirations of our less academically gifted students just as much as our many high-flyers."

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