Security is key but risk can be worthwhile

1st October 2004 at 01:00
As the school siege drama unfolded in Beslan, in southern Russia, a month ago, we watched the images on television, horrified at the atrocity.

War always seems to be with us in some shape or form. When children are involved it is bad enough, but when they are the direct target to be used as pawns in the terror game, it strikes us as inhuman.

At Oban High, we thought back to the children and families of Dunblane and how easily that tragedy in March 1996 could have happened to our school, to any school, and still could.

Security issues were very much in the news last month, with breaches at Buckingham Palace, Westminster and, indeed, at our own parliament. The ensuing debates' content was predictable; we've been there before.

After the shootings at Dunblane Primary and the Cullen inquiry, we in education accepted that we now had to think the unthinkable and plan for the protection of children in quite a different way.

There followed a rash of school security measures across the country, and rightly so; but just as a rash fades, the cash did too and so did the drive. There are still many vulnerable establishments across our land, where the security systems have failed and have not been repaired or where they have never worked.

In a world where the threat of terrorism is greater than ever, the safety of our children should be paramount. My hope is there may be some good to come from the horror at Beslan's school No 1 in the form of a fresh look at school security, but the cynic in me fears that the disaster has been upstaged by events closer to home.

Shortly after, the media was ablaze with images of the new Scottish Parliament building. I do think it looks wonderful. Our own Enric Miralles building!

I have been following the controversy around the building closely and it strikes me that the essence of the debate has two main strands: what a waste of public money versus think big, brave new future.

Leaving aside the reasons for the spiralling costs of the building (excellent material for modern studies lessons), the two strands of the debate could be viewed as a metaphor for our Scottish collective psyche.

A look at the possible values underpinning the "waste of public money" camp might reveal prudence, egalitarianism, thrift, self-denial; all highly laudable. These are the values which helped to make our nation great and strong but it could be argued that there is a down side to it all.

It may be that this combination of values leads us to be risk-averse, to lack vision and have low self-esteem. We are only a small nation after all.

Just think how many schools and hospitals we could have built for all that money.

But we are in the 21st century now and have to adjust to the demands of the modern world. People flock to see the Sydney Opera House and it has become an international icon; similarly, people are attracted to Barcelona with its fabulous Gaudi architecture. Why not Edinburgh with its Miralles building?

It is all to do with aspiration: to what do we, as a nation, aspire? There have been some conflicting messages on that topic recently, leaving us all confused.

In schools, we are asked to help our young people develop skills and attitudes to equip them for life; courage, vision, the ability to take risks and creativity are frequently mentioned. Wouldn't it be wonderful if those in the public eye could be a role-model and emulate these dispositions?

Ultimately, time will be the real judge of the Holyrood project. When the Fraser inquiry into why the building was pound;380 million over budget and three years overdue is but a distant memory, only then will we know.

In the meantime, I can't wait to hear what our pupils think of the building when we take our next trip. They'll come to it with fresh eyes and be entirely honest.

Linda Kirkwood is headteacher of Oban High, Argyll and Bute

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