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Perth Road 1950-1969

Houses and Prefects

"And now you have Hope"

 

With these words, a play on the school motto "With Hope and by Work", the new Rector Mr A. E. Hope, concluded his address to the pupils at his first morning assembly. Although spoken in light-hearted vein, the reference to the school motto was not inappropriate, for the new Rector's term of office was to be a challenging time for the school as it sought to meet the ever-increasing demands of a changing educational system.

 

Mr Hope Rector 1950-69

 

 

 

To many pupils of the fifties and sixties, Mr Hope tended to seem a rather remote figure, rarely seen except at assemblies and prizegivings. Certainly, the Rector was not given to regular patrols around the corridors seeking out miscreants or to frequent visits to the classroom to monitor the progress of a lesson. Such tasks, he felt, could be left to his capable staff and over­interference in the day-to-day running of departments could easily prove counter-productive. Behind this unobtrusive manner, however, he exercised a tight and efficient control over the whole school and was responsible for the introduction of many innovations which have now become an accepted part of the Harris tradition.

 

The most obvious example of this was the introduction of the House system which tried to overcome the problems which inevitably beset a large school. Amongst 1,400 pupils of varied abilities and interests it is all too easy for a school to seem a cold and anonymous place, where exams are the sole priority and only the most able academic pupils seem to be considered important. In common with his predecessors, Mr Hope was determined to ensure that such a sterile atmosphere did not characterise the Harris. A vital ingredient in ensuring that all pupils maintained a sense of identity and a pride in the school was to be played by the house system

 

First in mathematics or first in the "100 Yards under-16" - both achievements have their value. The house system should promote keenness and community sense, give activities point and purpose, foster esprit de corps and pride in the school.

 

Such noble-sounding sentiments can serve to disguise the real and practical benefits which the house system provided. Academic work was not the only criterion by which a pupil could be judged. The many and varied talents of the pupils could now be recognised in the form of house points, regardless of whether their abilities were displayed in the classroom, on the sports field or in some form of community service. Above all, pupils now belonged, not to a massive and impersonal institution, but to a smaller group where their efforts could receive due praise and a sense of personal importance could be maintained.

 

The task of setting up such a system was far from easy and required many hours of tedious work. For the Prefects, however, there were some benefits to be gained

 

After many lengthy consultations in the library, the Prefects, now provided with a cast-iron alibi for absenting themselves from classes, set to work to allot the pupils to the four houses, while many an unfortunate teacher had an arduous time trying to keep track of his register, imperiously comandeered by the denizens of the library. No debate in the House of Commons ever exceeded those held in the library in brilliance and wit, while the respective merits of various names for the houses underwent heated discussion. Finally, the Opposition agreed to drop their Molotov tactics, and Birnam, Cawdor, Forres and Kinloch were decided upon. Red, yellow, green and blue were adopted as the house colours, the Rector carefully pointing out in the hall that these had no political significance!

 

The reasons for choosing these particular house names are now lost in the mists of obscurity. Certainly, the choice for the first three house names seems more than a little influenced by the members of the English Department, although they would no doubt have claimed that the choice of Birnam, Cawdor and Forres was merely evidence of the enthusiasm which they had instilled in the senior pupils for Shakespeare's "Macbeth". Such enthusiasm seems to have been combined with an incomplete knowledge of the work, however, as they failed to complete the obvious set by dubbing the other house either Dunsinane or Glamis. This apparent oversight may be partly explained by the dual role of the English Department. At that time, the teaching of history was also its responsibility and it may have seemed appropriate that the fourth house should have a historical derivation, the Kinlochs having long been associated with Dundee and having provided Dundee's first Member of Parliament in the shape of George Kinloch.

 

The first year of the inter-house competition excited great enthusiasm amongst the pupils. Points were awarded for a variety of activities and the varying fortunes of each house during the year were keenly watched by staff and pupils alike. Kinloch triumphed in the sports leagues and were ultimately acclaimed champion House in Sport. Cawdor figuratively and literally outdistanced all others on Sports Day, captured four Leng Medals and were strongly fancied to win the splendid trophy presented by the Parent­Teachers' Association. Forres swimmers gained for their house a very con­siderable lead in the gala. On the academic side, however, Birnam's superiority was not to be questioned, while their athletes also gained many useful points. The final outcome was not, in fact, decided until the second­last day of the school year but was kept a close secret until the prizegiving the following day. Just as today, four pairs of house captains were left on tenterhooks, wondering who would be called to receive the Inter-House Trophy. As always, the announcement was left to the last possible moment before Mr Hope finally ended the suspense: Birnam were the first House Champions.

 

The Rector was also determined that the pupils' time at the Harris should prepare them for the future by instilling in them the essential quality of self­discipline. A vital part in this process was to be played by the Prefect system and, to make the honour more than a meaningless title, the range of responsibilities and duties allocated to the Prefects was greatly expanded. Alongside the routine duties of supervising lunches, collecting lunch numbers, and helping with corridor and playground supervision, they were expected to set an example and be of assistance to the younger pupils. This was made clear by the guidelines issued by the Rector

 

Prefects must be reasonably clean and tidy. Prefects must listen to the pupil's point of view. Prefects must act as mediators between staff and pupils.

 

In keeping with their new status, Prefects were provided with rooms for their exclusive use. Since space was at a premium, these rooms were not the most convenient of places. The boys, for example, were granted the loft above room 22a as their private domain, a choice many of them must have occasionally regretted when a last-minute rush to classes down the spiral staircase, which was the only access, resulted in inevitable accidents.

 

Not surprisingly, the Prefects' new responsibilities greatly enhanced their standing with the younger pupils

 

When I was an awe-struck member of first year, the Boy Prefects were handsome, stalwart young men, all about seven feet tall. They either rushed along corridors with an intriguingly business-like air, or wandered along in a lordly fashion, hands in pockets. In my eyes at least, they were superior beings living in a world of their own.

 

This hero-worship did not last for long, however

 

The decay set in when I reached third year. After two years of being overwhelmed by magnificence, it was rather disconcerting to discover that most Boy Prefects were quite ordinary mortals who had to sit examinations and who did not have haloes tucked into their pockets. They looked younger, less sophisticated, and somehow they had shrunk to a height of about six feet.

 

By sixth year the process of degeneration was even more marked

 

It would be complimentary to describe the present-day boys as an ordinary group of human beings; they just do not look the same. They run along corridors in a disgustingly juvenile fashion or else slouch along hands in pockets.

 

For any present-day Prefect harbouring "delusions of grandeur", it might be sobering to reflect which of these descriptions is the most apt.