In the mid-70s I was appointed to my first principalship in a school in Cumbernauld, where I taught pretty happily for the next 15 years. But the first few of these years – before a further secondary school was built – were fraught, first because of the sheer number of pupils and second because of the consequent lack of sufficient accommodation, necessitating the dreaded huts in the playground. Pupil numbers at their peak reached 1800.
As head of English I had a staff of 18, larger than many primary schools, all of them dedicated but some of them in their first years of teaching. I shudder now to think how little time I gave to individual pupils with diverse needs; I shudder to think how little help I could offer to my young probationers; I marvel at what we nevertheless did manage to achieve with 16 sections of 30 pupils each in both third and fourth years.
I utterly agree with the thinking at the time that the optimum size for a comprehensive secondary school was 800, a figure which allowed for the development of a genuine sense of community without diminishing pupil choice. It was not drawn out of a hat at council headquarters. On the contrary it was the consensus opinion of that community of experts who used to be listened to and whose views where formed by consideration of research and empirical evidence. Remember these golden days?
Every week on my bus journey into Glasgow I see the monstrosity that is the Glasgow College. There used to be local further education colleges serving the needs of the young people of Springburn and Cardonald and many others as well as institutions for specialisms such as printing and seamanship among others. Now young people have to travel away from their home areas for their college education and for staff there is the nightmare of having to travel between, say, the centre of the city and Cathcart in the same day to teach their classes.
You would think that Holyrood and local authorities all round the country would look at the results in the further education sector of blindly adopting a 'big is beautiful’ approach to school organisation where money seems to be the main or only consideration, however prettily the policy is dressed up in management gobbledegook.
I do enjoy the Scottish Review and I've always admired Brian Wilson for starting the West Highland Free Press. It's a great pity that Brian appears to have become little better than a bog-standard 'nat basher' and that the Scottish Review has given him space to air his tiresome negativity. I eyed the piece about the potential of hard border with willing belief that Brian might have something constructive to say. Instead, I got a vacuous comparison with the Northern Ireland/Eire border situation and not even a nod to the reality of a Scotland/England border controlled by the simple mechanism of national insurance or similar employment numbering. This would not stop illegal immigration (it doesn't do so at the moment) but it would certainly be a perfectly feasible way to police the movement of legal EU immigrants in Scotland trying to move illegally to a post-EU England. Come on, Brian. Think positive – and smile!
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