Smart thinking gets results

9th September 2005 at 01:00
Even the baking heat of a Turkish poolside could not stop my mind drifting back to Oban towards the end of my holiday, musing on all the issues ahead of us this session.

We face a big agenda, as always. A great deal of it is externally generated and, while this is important, we are more concerned by issues arising from our own evaluation of last session. Get our own housekeeping right, our own ethos good, and not only will we address a number of the points on the Scottish Executive's agenda, but we will also be in a position to work on the rest.

Society, meanwhile, is changing at break-neck speed. This was brought home to me - again - at our annual sports day. We re-established this about five years ago and it is now a tremendous event: the whole school marches in clan colours, led by our pipers and cheerleaders, into the local stadium.

The weather was fine and we had a great day.

However, I later received a complaint from parents. While they applauded the day and acknowledged our staff's tremendous efforts and good work, they were appalled by the foul language of a group of children in the stand.

We thought long and hard about this. While we run a tight ship and generally children don't behave like this within school, we realised that some teenagers in a freer environment will resort to peer norms.

We are an essentially rural community. While so many core values and behaviours remain here much as they have always done, we - especially our young people - are exposed, through mass media, mobile phones and the internet, to a cornucopia of information, values and subcultures, and much of it is not good.

The sad fact is that all of this is outside our circle of influence, although I'd like a few minutes with certain Westminster politicians. They want us to promote values and citizenship, yet promulgate laws liberalising a drinking culture.

Our society, and especially our schools, are developing young people whose confidence and skills are remarkable. What concerns me is the gulf emerging between those who make it and those who don't. The former may be achieving more, but there are, arguably, fewer of them. I believe more young people than ever are today in danger of being drawn into a negative subculture.

It has been said of schools that we are the last bastions of sound values and principles. Never has our role and responsibility in maintaining these values been more crucial. We can't affect what is going on in society but we have a captive audience in terms of our pupils, their families and, indeed, our communities.

At no time has it been more important to establish the ethos of our school community. Yet we find the funding for the Scottish Schools Ethos Network has ceased. We invited Andrew Mellor, manager of the network and the Anti-Bullying Network, to come in June to help us relaunch our anti-bullying campaign. Listening to our issues, his opinion chimed with ours: we have to, yet again, work on our ethos.

This involves us thinking more creatively about how to engage the disengaged and about the external pressures and influences on our pupils.

Who else in society is doing this for young people? We have to work not necessarily harder, but smarter for these young people, who are our future.

I live just behind Tarbert's steamer pier, where people fish for cod and mackerel. A huge, one-eyed, elderly seal spends his time mostly under the pier and lives on the fish off the lines. The rest of his tribe fish in the sea and bask on rocks. He is twice their size and has lived for years. He's an unusual seal who has gone down a road less travelled which has served him well. He's my neighbour, he's a smart worker, he's a mould-breaker. When I need inspiration this session, I'll remember him.

Linda Kirkwood is headteacher of Oban HighComment to

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