The school that has self-belief all sewn up

27th June 2014 at 01:00

One pupil in Scotland left high school this year with a knitted boyfriend.

He wasn't life-size, although the woollen heart that was handed over at the same time had roughly the same dimensions as the genuine article.

The handmade gifts did not come from the 10 friends with whom the girl had just completed her higher national certificate (HNC) dance artist qualification, although there's no question that the group were, well, close-knit.

The knitting was the work of the course teacher, Anne McEwan. She handed over the heart during an emotional and humorous graduation ceremony at Denny High School near Falkirk with the advice to "only give that to the real thing".

The knitted offerings were inspired by a running joke between teacher and pupil, whose response when asked if there was anyone special in her life was always "no", prompting Ms McEwan to carry out an oft-repeated threat to knit her someone.

The serious point behind the presents was the importance of self-belief, and Ms McEwan had a message about that for each of the 11 girls as they became the first pupils in Scotland to leave school with an HNC dance artist qualification earlier this month.

The bonds of friendship and respect that she and the teenagers had forged over the past six years were genuinely touching to witness. As they celebrated, it was clear that the class had gained at least as much from those relationships as they had from the course itself. The physical grace the girls showed on stage was mirrored by a growing confidence and care for each other.

As they left to embark on the next stage of their education, Ms McEwan reminded them that they were already living proof that "by believing in yourself dreams really can come true".

It's easy to be cynical about such statements and to point out the hurdles that often limit such ambitions - most often, a lack of resources. But Denny High's dance academy has succeeded without any financial support from the Scottish government.

Arguably it deserves such funding and could do even more if any were forthcoming. But it shows how much a school can achieve even when it is situated in a community that is not blessed with a lot of money.

Most of the pound;25,000-a-year running costs come from a combination of fundraising and fees charged to parents of the girls studying dance, with the rest met through the school's budget. The danger is that making families fork out for opportunities that should be paid for by the state could set a precedent.

That said, I don't think many would argue that taxpayers should foot the bill for flights to take pupils to New York for workshops on Broadway, where one of Denny High's graduates is about to enrol.

But wherever the money comes from, the self-belief shown by staff at Denny High is an underrated currency. Time to start knitting banknotes, perhaps.

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