Who left the seat up ...?

23rd February 2001 at 00:00
I am damn near moved to tears for the innocent young ladies of Laurel Park School, who are about to be forced into consorting with those boy people. Before they even reach the hallowed halls of Hutchie, they have been forewarned by their parents that these guys are just heaving with testosterone, and that they have a precocious tendency to walk on the grass.

In all its illustrious days perched on the side of the hill in the shadow of Glasgow University, Laurel Park can proudly boast that it has never had to confront the indignity of a toilet seat left in the vertical position.

Families may feel that the girls will be distracted from their counterpoint by furtive masculine glances or love hearts surreptitiously passed around the classroom on Valentine's Day. They should not blame the male of the species entirely for such peccadillos, just as they would reject the disgracefully chauvinistic claim that "If there were no bad girls, there would be no bad boys."

In my youth, the Laurel Bank pupils, as they were at the time, stood out from the rest of the city's population because of the blinding brightness of their attire. To me as an impoverished student, this rare species appeared to exist only in the subway, from which they emerged in the morning, returning thither for over-night storage. You would never come across a Laurel Bank person outside an area of a few square yards in the city's west end. If they stepped one yard beyond the confines of Hillhead, they were allegedly prone to vaporisation.

On the subway they talked about Ohm's law and Il Penseroso, while the rest of us shared fantasies of Lisbon Lions, and dreamed of bacon rolls at journey's end. There are enough health hazards facing a 21st-century girl, without being accosted by acres of spots, contagiously transported around by adolescent youths.

The Laurel Bank era has passed into history, and these exotic Kermit-green creatures will no longer drag their heavyburdens of textbooks in impossibly huge briefcases up the slope from Hillhead subway to their college of knowledge.

Equal opportunities are being recklessly abandoned in Holy Rood. The gender balance of the staff has shifted alarmingly over the last seven years.

Reflecting and outstripping the national trend, women now account for 75 per cent of teaching staff, and the plummeting confraternity of men is increasingly beleaguered by the relentless onward march of the female. This trend is characterised by the choice of venue for staff social occasions, as restaurants serving wee fancy dinners are increasingly preferred. There is even talk of burying a time capsule containing an exact replica of Andy Ross, principal teacher of craft and design, to remind posterity of the authentic male before the advent of electronic mail.

On the subject of unisex institutions, I was intrigued to learn this week of the establishment of a well-designed website of Blairs College in Aberdeen, where I spent my formative years. Photographs and anecdotes reminded me of some of the able and dedicated priests who taught us there. Some, like Father Bill Anderson, were inspirational and masters of the art of teaching.

Others, like my form teacher, Father Dan Hart, were erudite, friendly and supportive. They, like us, were far from home, inhabiting a system frozen in time and tradition, but succeeded in making the experience positive and memorable. While the raison d'etre of the institution, the encouragement of vocations to the priesthood, was scarcely successful, prominent products such as John Brown HMI and George Haggarty, rector of St John's High School in Dundee, do not hesitate to acknowledge their debt to Blairs. Many of us came from modest backgrounds and the success achieved by alumni of the college demonstrates conclusively that cream is not always thick and rich.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher at Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh


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