In Wednesday's edition of SR, Kenneth Roy questioned the wisdom of 'super schools', one of which is being built in Kilmarnock and involves the bringing together of two existing secondaries and two existing primaries in a campus to be named after the novelist William McIlvanney. Today, Islay McLeod recalls her own schooldays at one of the affected schools and anticipates with foreboding the prospect facing children in her home town.
Having seen my fair share of US teen flicks, I’ve watched adolescents strutting down the corridor of their school, throwing open their locker and stuffing things inside. From the outside, the lockers were metal shells, but inside they had personality. Maybe a few selfies or photos with friends, the latest 'cool’ heart throb on the scene blue-tacked onto the frame. Something meaningful to them, however dense...I cringed at the sight but I also felt another emotion: envy.
That little bit of school belonged to them. They belonged to the school and had a share. They mattered.
Now look at Scotland. There are no lockers with a name attached for each child.
Having spent a happy existence at Fenwick Primary School, I was moved to Loanhead Primary in Kilmarnock because my three older sisters were attending Kilmarnock Academy. I was seven years old and found the transition challenging. To move from a small school where we had one class of 20 to a big school with three classes of 30 was daunting. We didn’t mix often – although we were all in primary four – and referred to each other by room numbers or teachers’ names. Even in the playground at break and at lunch. 'Oh she’s in the crazy class’ or 'He’s in the posh class.’ We were rivals and never mixed. We were the 'everything goes’ class. Add that to being a new person, trying to fit in, and you’ll understand.
The move from primary school to Kilmarnock Academy was massive. It was a big school with hundreds of pupils. We had four houses and were proud to be a part of them – Craigie, Dean, Dundonald, Loudoun – each with different colours; mine was Dundonald and blue. Yet I never felt part of Kilmarnock Academy as an institution. I had good teachers and bad, but nothing gave me a thirst for learning. Nothing made me proud to be a pupil.
Between classes, when you would wander about from one building to the next, you would take care not to look at a girl coming the opposite way in case she was a hard case who would pound you with punches after school if you looked at her. I didn’t feel safe until I was in fifth year and music, physics and mathematics gripped me. I had the best head of senior year teacher, Mr Lindsay, who understood me and taught me how to try to be more confident. With his help, I soon became the schools’ representative for East Ayrshire Council and learned a lot.
But I had someone there who believed in me. I fear for my successors.
Are we really planning to force nearly 2,000 children to attend Kilmarnock's new 'super school'? In this factory for kids, some might do well, but we haven’t got the teachers to help the rest. Who will survive and who will slip between the gaps into the cesspit of 'Must try harder’?
The 'super school’ will have feeder primaries from both the central and further corners of Kilmarnock – the term 'feeder primary’ itself conjuring up images of pupils being devoured by a beast. But I wonder if anyone has thought of territorial cohesion and engagement. My greatest fear is that the 'super school’ will lead to factions and gangs – formed according to where their members live in the town.
There has always been rivalry between schools in Kilmarnock. In 1992, whilst at Loanhead Primary across the road from Kilmarnock Academy, I remember a grim day when masses of pupils from another local secondary descended on the academy during the lunch break, armed with hormones, hatred and the odd knife. An education-sector Old Firm scenario ensued – mouths full of roars and abuse, pupils gathering in regimental strongholds scattered across the playground.
As prefect 'guardians’ of one of the entrances to the primary school, it was the responsibility of myself and a friend to get all the younger pupils inside to safety. Police cars and ambulances soon screamed into the scene. At least one person was stabbed that day – his younger brother, my age, was inside the primary school and distraught, soon to be collected by ashen-faced parents.
Bad enough then. What now?
Does the Scottish Government care about the children involved in this 'super school’ fiasco? Does it care about identity and individuality? Or would it rather shovel all the children into one big bag?
I read recently that Kilmarnock Academy now proudly proclaimed itself a 'dyslexia friendly school’ and 'rights respecting school’. Are there some schools out there that aren’t both of these things? What about the rights of pupils to their education? Have they even been asked?
This is the worst decision my local council has made in my lifetime. Children who need more support will be forgotten and suffocated. If we want more thinkers and inventors, we need to provide smaller, more accessible, friendlier schools, where ability can be developed and cherished.
I think the Scottish Government has forgotten how it feels to be a child.
Dr Jim Brooks has written to inform us that East Ayrshire Council is now planning to build a second 'super school' on playing fields at Cumnock. Knockroon School will have 2,500 pupils.