Remove not the ancient landmark

29th November 1996 at 00:00
Although Strathclyde Region's umbilical cord was severed almost a year ago, leaving the former divisions to free float, in some respects it is difficult to grasp that Big Person has really gone, and that we are on our own. Not even the Technicolor turnabouts of headed notepaper have rammed home the message completely. The clearest message yet in the region-to-council saga as far as Glasgow is concerned is taking place just now. "129", the education offices in Bath Street that we all have known and only some of us have loved, are moving lock, stock and barrel to what was Strathclyde House, transmuted now to Charing Cross Complex.

I imagine that the underlying reasons for this relocation are financial; you can get a prize if you can think of an educational activity these days that does not have a Treasury tag on its toe. The bookkeepers have probably decided that 129 is an asset they can turn a profit on, so can be jettisoned as part of the overall financial realpolitik that must be waged to achieve the Magic 6 - the percentage cut that Glasgow's educational service must make to remain somehow or other viable. Whatever the reasons for making the great diaspora down the road may be, they are not aesthetic.

I had occasion to visit Charing Cross Complex recently to hear HMI deliver a sharp and incisive resume of the performance indicators that will feature prominently in schools' lives for the rest of recorded time. As my fellow heads and I wandered through it, conflicting emotions did what they do best. This was the first time I had set foot in the hallowed sanctum from which the diktats that had affected half of Scotland had been fired like photon torpedoes from the Starship Enterprise, and the only thought I could come up with was how tatty and health-and-safety-inadequate the carpeting was. I felt like an Eastern European peasant rubbernecking my way through the apparatchiks' headquarters thrown open to all and sundry after the revolution. Like all such places, what it really lacks is the style of its predecessors.

129 was conceived an exuberant Victorian stamp, built to last, patriarchal, donating a sign to the world in general that it was in a serious business that it went about seriously. I have rarely entered it without feeling that I was stepping into a past that was confident about itself. Its central-hall type architecture, redolent of Benthamism, marble flooring, a lift that I never saw in operation, unsurpassed natural lighting, smell of well looked after furniture in the interview rooms, labyrinths of rooms that lead into each other like Chinese boxes, proliferation of doors, the almost whispering gallery effects at third-floor levels, all conspired to produce an effect of stability that will be missed. It is the last of Glasgow's educational identification badges.

Its predecessors, Dundas Vale Teachers' Centre and Woodland Centre, have already made the long march into history, taking with them memories of in-service, dodgy electrical supplies, committee rooms in which no one had ever smoked and headteachers' policy discussion meetings. A feature of these meetings in the early days of the region, held in Dundas Vale conference hall, was the Grand March led by the then director, flanked by a couple of assistants performing the Obsequious Two-step, one pace behind him, finally coming to rest at the platform, readying to blind us all with science and educational law. Charing Cross Complex can never compete with the structural raffishness that allowed our governing bodies such scope.

Perhaps 129 is a symbol of an educational culture that is out of sync with its time, as are Dundas Vale and Woodlands. This raises a problem about what the authority will take to the Complex as a memento. The director's chair? The last Lochgelly dipped in bronze? I would like to suggest a plaque, pastel painted, last seen in Woodlands, exhorting teachers to lead children along the right way. It was a quote from the Psalms that the authority could take to heart for the next millennium. There is another psalmodic quote, "Remove not the ancient landmark", but I'm afraid that's a bit late.

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