Gina Davidson: High school is too high-risk

THE anxiety is already beginning to keep me awake at night; gnawing away at those parts of the brain which a few glasses of red fail to dent into sleepy submission.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 25th February 2016, 10:53 am
Updated Thursday, 25th February 2016, 11:00 am
File picture: David Davies/PA Wire
File picture: David Davies/PA Wire

The what ifs are innumerable. The potential scenarios for conflict too copious. Imaginary supposes are in abundance.

No, it’s not the EU referendum. In six months’ time my eldest will start high school and will be, like an Edinburgh tram, locked into a path no matter how much you’d like to influence you have no control over. It’s already deeply worrisome.

Starting primary and all the over-wrought emotions that went with that, the sniffling at the gate and concern about whether he’d manage to change into his indoor shoes and eat his banana at playtime – how I long to have such small worries again.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

High school will mean another town, getting on a bus, remembering to catch the bus home again, managing a timetable, actually writing down what homework is required and for when, doing the homework (preferably without having to be reminded over and over), remembering when PE kit is needed... and that’s the straightforward stuff.

It will also mean moving from a school two minutes from home, a school where he knows nearly every pupil by first name, to one which has more than 1000 pupils, the vast, vast majority strangers. It will mean trying to find where he fits in, what he thinks and feels about the world around him; the horrors of bitchiness on social media.

The school he’ll likely attend is apparently good. The academic results put it up there in league table terms and its sport facilities are so far removed from the muddy pitches at Kirk Brae that PE could actually be fun. But I worry about the focus that is given to shaping the pupils into fine, upstanding human beings – or at least ensuring that they don’t use a chisel in woodwork to stab a classmate – is too much to ask of teachers who are still busy trying to understand the Curriculum for Excellence and the national exams.

So most of all I’m concerned about what goes on in the school corridors, the toilets, the bus rather than the classroom.

And then I read stories like that of the three teenagers at a city secondary expelled and charged by police for a “vile assault” on another child at the school. This was after a PE lesson, so my over-active imagination has it happening in the changing rooms where staff rarely venture; where the poor child could not even call for help and have it answered.

A week before, another pupil at a different high school was caught with a knife after allegedly threatening to stab a classmate. It makes my blood run cold. And that was after the terrible tragic events of the schoolboy Bailey Gwynne in Aberdeen who died after being stabbed while in school.

Schools of course take all theses incidents to heart and I’m sure take bullying incredibly seriously. But speak to parents at the school gate and you hear tales of bullying which can make your toes curl.

As a parent letting your precious child loose in a world where you have no say, no direct contact with teachers, no idea who your child is sitting beside in class, let alone know their parents... well, I find the prospect terrifying.

I realise that much of my fretting is to do with my own experiences of high school – at least the first couple of years – and I would give my right arm to ensure he doesn’t have to run the gauntlet of bullies.

But I’ve got two more to get through high school after that, and I’d quickly run out of limbs.

Instead I just have to keep my fingers crossed my fears are groundless.

He, of course, is looking forward to it.

Thoughts with the Macquakers

JASMINE Macquaker had everything going for her: bright, talented, creative, athletic. She came from a well-heeled Edinburgh family and was privately educated.

Her family would have been frantic with worry when the 14-year-old disappeared. Now they will be in the absolute depths of despair after it was confirmed a body found on North Queensferry beach was their daughter.

Losing a child is the toughest, most heartbreaking event any parent has to deal with. It’s a moment which can tear people, and families, apart. I’ve seen friends go through it, I’ve written too many stories about it.

I hope the Macquakers have all the support they need at this devastating time. But if they are looking for help, then the Joshua Nolan Foundation is a good place to start.

Give modest Eric a discreet plaque

ERIC “Winkle” Brown, the legendary pilot who passed away at the weekend at the grand old age of 97, should be remembered in his home town. He was fearless, possibly reckless at times, but his enthusiasm for flying played a major part in the defence of his country.

I heard him speak when he was named a Great Scot last year, and he’d be amazed at calls for a memorial. Perhaps a plaque on a wall near his place of birth in Leith would be a fitting tribute for a man who was incredibly modest about his achievements.

Get serious over heritage status

IT can come as no surprise to city planners and councillors that Unesco has finally written to the government of its “strong concerns” about modern urban development in Edinburgh.

The rumblings from the body that decided the city was a World Heritage Site because of its architecture and landscape have been growing louder with each new development, be it a hotel or a shopping centre.

I hope this intervention will make the creative brains behind new developments think more seriously about how their designs fit into the city and give our councillors a bit more of the backbone they showed recently when they threw out the appalling plans for the old Royal High School.

On right track

I QUITE like the new bridge that may be built across Dalry Road as part of a new cycleway. While the artist’s impression may look like the metal structure is running straight past someone’s tenement window, the reality is that the bridge which currently exists in the same place is a reasonable distance from the flats and is supported by stone plinths. It is also green and rather hideous and definitely in need of replacing.