The shabby side of schooling

11th October 1996 at 01:00
Alex Ferguson was recently quoted as being shocked when he saw (on a recent visit to his dying mother) the state of the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow. It was shabby, cladding was coming off the wall and the Manchester United manager was reportedly upset that these were judged suitable conditions for the dying, never mind those still alive.

Shabbiness and schools have no doubt gone hand in hand since the days of Mr Chips, but for as long as I can remember I have wondered at what appeared to be the six-monthly refurbishment of building society offices and the gleaming fitments with which banks are furnished - prompted no doubt by an ashtray being full, or some toddler having scribbled on a blotter.

Perhaps direct action is the only answer. In my first staffroom I remember a French teacher who opted for this route. He was braver than the rest of us: he spent his weekends falling out of planes at Scone airfield. Frustrated at weeks of attempting to replace the stuffing and springs in the staffroom's derelict armchairs he lifted them both bodily and threw them out the open staff door into the corridor beyond. There was a pause, and then the headmaster's somewhat quizzical face looked round the door.

The president of the Headteachers' Association for Scotland recently drew attention to the way that schools have grown old together, a collective legacy of damp and rot and dilapidation (that's the buildings, not the staff). Yes, I know that buildings don't create an "ethos", and that schools can function well in physically demanding or unpleasant accommodation, but a generation of teachers do not know of any experience other than leaking roofs, jammed windows and unpainted walls.

How heartening therefore to see this being recognised in the Pounds 570, 000 made available by Michael Forsyth for refurbishment to the opted-out school in Dunblane (Now who's the constituency MP again?). And hard on the heels of this came another Pounds 440,000 to the High School of Glasgow from the Lottery Commission to renovate its rather fetching half-timbered pavilion at Old Anniesland.

I do not know whether these brigands in suits who allocate lottery funds would deign to put a condition on their largesse; but would it not be a magnificent gesture for the Old Boys to offer Old (but soon to be upgraded) Anniesland to schools that are within a mile or two geographically of the High School, but are financially light years away? Playing-fields for them are at best a scruffy red blaes football pitch or unmaintained council park. Surely it would not cramp the chaps too much if the ancestral acres of publicly funded grassland were turned over to the natives one day a week?

Of course, sometimes teachers have to beware of the enemy within. One Highland school, reputed by the locals and the Educational Institution of Scotland, to have the worst conditions in Scotland, had its case for a rebuild undermined by the incoming headteacher declaring proudly that he did not need a new building, a few local improvements would suffice.

The previous headteacher, who had retired after 20 years of campaigning for a new school, would presumably have in mind one local improvement he would welcome. In any case, the capital programme of Highland Regional Council (as it then was) would not have looked at a replacement until well after the millennium.

And, sadly, staffs are muted nowadays in revealing the truth about the state of their buildings, in case the authorities immediately target the school for closure.

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