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'We want everyone's expectations to rise'

While the mainly male sources of civic pride might lower the aspirations of the girls in Hawick, the town's traditions do have great cultural and historical value, says the high school's principal teacher of history, Ian Landles.

"As a historian, I'm in favour of tradition and heritage, although these have to live and breathe and move with the times," he says.

"There are good reasons, though, for not making many more changes to the Common Riding, which has changed greatly in the past 10 years. Women can now ride out with the men every day except the main event on the Friday."

The Common Riding, an annual patrol of the area that locals look forward to with the same expectation as Christmas, celebrates an incident that happened almost 500 years ago. "The men of the town had all died at Flodden," Mr Landles explains. "It was a hard time for Hawick, but the women and boys kept the town going.

"One day a group of youths were riding out and were surprised by a party of English raiders. The Hawick youths routed them and took their flag. It is an achievement worth celebrating - and it was the boys who did it."

The depute headteacher, Alan Williamson, is well aware of the danger of downplaying boys' accomplishments while aiming to raise girls' ambitions and he is determined to avoid this. "We are not saying: 'You stay where you are, boys, and let the girls catch up with you.' No, no. We want everyone's expectations to rise.

"We don't want our boys to become any less confident just because the girls become more so."

But perhaps a little less confidence in some areas might bring benefits, suggests Sandy Wilson, the principal teacher of PE.

"Some of the boys here don't want to sit and listen, they just want to play sport. The girls are more interested in learning. It's a message we have to get through to the boys while they're still young. It is not enough to be good at sport; you also have to learn."

Indeed, it is not only the girls at Hawick who feel undervalued by a culture that conspicuously celebrates male pursuits. Liam Caswell, in S4, enjoys music, singing and acting. "But if I tell people I've got a big part in Calamity Jane, they're like 'Why would you be doing that? Get away from me.'

"I think it might be starting to change, though. People see that I like these things and am good at them, so why not let me? I don't give them a hard time over rugby."

Rugby player Steven Harris, an S3 pupil, exemplifies the benefits that sporting prowess can bring to a lad prepared to take confidence gained on the field and use it elsewhere. Articulate and mature, he describes a Space Unlimited project involving pupils working with a local business to solve real-world challenges.

"It was all about a shared problem: communications," Steven explains. "It was a problem for us at first because we were from different years and it was a problem for the company, which wanted to improve communications between its workers and managers.

"We came up with a number of ideas they liked, such as beepers and a company newspaper, and we learned a lot about industry."

The project made Steven much more comfortable about speaking in public, he says. "I've done about 50 presentations now, including one at SETT (the Scottish Learning Festival). Things I might have been scared about before don't bother me now."


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