Social inclusion will remain a mere ideal as long as there are glaikit teenage girls to be taught, says Hugh Dougherty
AMONG THE unrelenting changes in education there is one constant, at least in the west of Scotland. It is the wee hairy.
This is a good old Glaswegian expression for a teenager of the female gender decked out in the latest and most grotesque extremes of fashion. Wee hairies are to be seen in droves staggering out of secondary schools, usually teetering on the most unsuitable of footwear, and almost always with arms linked, as though mutual support is the order of the day.
Research shows that girls are outstripping boys academically, but the wee hairy cohort is the last bastion of female indifference to school. Smouldering, with half-hidden cigarettes in hand, they clump around - currently on platform soles - earrings dangling, looking as glaikit as possible.
Nearly 30 years ago, when my wife began her short teaching career in what was once St Leonard's Secondary in Glasgow's Easterhouse, she introduced me to the hairy of the day. That version came with duffel coat, white - well, they were once white - tights, clumpy shoes and bucket bags slung over the right arm, with the left arm linked to another wee hairy, as the duo sallied forth in search of "boays".
David Bowie make-up, andor Bay City Roller make-up and totems further adorned their ensemble, and the fate of most of that generation was to go to work in the now long-defunct sewing factory.
Over the years fashion has changed but the essential hairy, with variants on school uniform, and the constant bane of headteachers and management teams pursuing a school dress code, has remained. Adaptations of dress include school shirts not tucked in, ties tied to look wide or slim, and scarves - when popular with rock groups of the moment - worn round the waist.
But the wee hairy is much more than an incarnation of bad taste in fashion. She is nothing less than a challenge to the idea that school is for work and self-advancement.
The bag of the hairy has remained empty of scoolwork for as long as teachers can remember. Its state is an outward sign of inward rejection of education and a vacant state of mind that is the ultimate extension of the youth culture which puts a value on being "cool". Thankfully for most, reality sets in somewhere about fourth year when Standard grade exams loom.
Forget notions of social inclusion and setting up working parties on how to motivate such girls and eliminate the wee hairy as a manifestation of deprivation and disadvantage. Take a look at any secondary in a comfortable area and you will soon spot a proportion of middle-class hairies who have worked hard at looking as much like the real thing as possible.
In some schools such hairies specialise in mini-skirts so short that they have been aptly described by a senior female member of staff as "pelmets". These, allied to a cigarette bought under-age as a "single" from the corner shop that the local trading standards officer is targeting, give out such an air of authenticity that you would never guess that the hairy before you has parents who are both teachers.
Hairies, then, are a state of mind, a cult and an enduring one, which no amount of educational effort over the years has been able to shift. There is probably a doctorate awaiting a researcher on the phenomenon, and especially on what happens when an ex-hairy leaves school.
In the meantime, schools will just have to put with the girls who slouch their way through the legal minimum years of secondary education. For them, the call of "boays" and an undying loyalty to the tackiest of fashions remain their main motivators.
Just the other day, four wee hairies, arms linked to form a single being, wandered off the pavement right in front of my car as I drove into their school to visit the headteacher. Glaikit looks greeted the sound of the horn, and four bubble-gums burst in unison. All they were missing were the duffel coats and bucket bags of the first wee hairies my wife pointed out to me all those years ago.
Hugh Dougherty works in local government public relations.