Tears, fears and peers;Letter

5th February 1999 at 00:00
IT IS all too rare to read an article looking at school life from a pupil's perspective. I read with interest Brian Boyd's letter last summer expressing his anxiety as his child faced the transition to secondary school and his article (TESS, January 15) on his son's first term at Duncanrig.

I am glad that Chris survived the ordeal of transition, and I am sure my daughter will survive the ordeal in the summer, especially since she will have the advantage of going to a school where all the classrooms are in the same building and the number of teachers she will see reduced from 17 to 10.

Yet the transition remains a far greater ordeal than is good for any child. My wife and I found our daughter weeping at the prospect of secondary school and this was before Christmas. Goodness knows how many more tears will be shed before August and this by a confident child who enjoys work, sport and a wide circle of friends.

The only reason that my daughter can give for her unease is her fear of bullying. I am uncomfortably aware that there is enormous scope for bullying on the long walk to school, in the unsupervised breaks and on the hourly trek between classrooms. Out-of-area placements, absurdly popular in Edinburgh, undoubtedly increase the sense of insecurity.

Brian Boyd identifies other potential causes of anxiety: the multiplicity of teachers, failing to get to the right classroom on time and the sheer weight of the schoolbag. Why do we turn our children into nomads and beasts of burden, with no home base and nowhere to put their things?

Why do we impose the colossal change that even 10 teachers pose compared with the single class teacher of P7, especially when none of them combines a pastoral role with sufficient time to really know the class?

Then there is the composition of the class: after seven years spent in the company of the same group, just when they hit puberty and psychologically are at their most vulnerable, we put them into a new class and let them sort each other out, much as gladiators in the Coliseum but without spectators.

Last and most important I would add the folly and cruelty of mixed-ability classes. Foolish because they prevent teaching to match attainment, cruel because they deny children a sense of purpose. "What is the point of working?" they will ask themselves when they find themselves all following the same course whether they were in the top or bottom group in P7.

What makes such a sentence tolerable? The variety, as Brian Boyd's boy told him, just like zapping the television, and, I suspect, the lack of pressure to achieve or, in some schools clearly, even to attend.

David Hill Relugas Road Edinburgh

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