Toast a miracle on the Forth

30th June 2006 at 01:00
Geoffrey Palmer's lugubrious voice-over on Grumpy Old Men tells me I am one of the middle-aged codgers who rage against a world that is rapidly increasing its speed, while we are slowing down.

However, though my nearest and dearest would claim my behaviour makes this obvious, I retain, in my own mind at least, much of my youthful optimism.

To be fair, sitting at our senior prom last week, with the late June twilight reflecting off the waters of the Forth outside the hotel windows, it would have been difficult not to feel fairly optimistic about life, education and the whole damn thing.

Towards midnight, knackered after a week of awards ceremonies and sports days, I found myself alone at a side table while the bright young things grooved on the dance floor. Across from me, another solitary figure, resplendent in his Highland dress, mirrored me.

This pupil, whom I'll call Jimmy, was an example of what can be achieved within our often maligned education system. He came to us in S1 with many challenging difficulties, notably an inability to socialise. For virtually all of his first three years at secondary, he would find himself at break and lunch in the school office, where the clerical staff and others gave him support and security and a feeling of belonging.

Tasks were found for him, he was praised for every success and, gradually, the head was more often raised, the smile more forthcoming and, by third year, conversation was the norm.

This was further developed by the home economics department, and Jimmy was soon spotted about the school in full chef's uniform as his confidence developed and his social skills advanced.

In fifth and then sixth year, he made friends and benefited further from the close support of a whole range of staff, teaching and non-teaching.

Leaving school, a job awaits him.

I was reflecting on this as I watched him at the prom, realising how remarkable was the journey he had made. Even three years before, the thought that he might attend such an event would have been unthinkable.

But we always want more and I was a little sad that, though he was at the prom, he wasn't dancing and seemed a little isolated.

No sooner had these thoughts formulated than two of our brilliant sixth-year girls approached him and, brooking no refusal, took him up on the dance floor where he stayed, having the time of his life, for the rest of the evening.

As we head off for the summer break, let's remind ourselves that there are small miracles happening, in all of our schools, every day. Enjoy the holidays!

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