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Perth Road 1969-1985

End of Selection

End of selection


When the fifth Rector, Mr James Hamilton, was a mere assistant teacher in the west coast of Scotland he found it necessary to move to a larger school in order to broaden his teaching experience. Before leaving his first school, however, he was given some sage advice by that traditional source of worldly wisdom - the school janitor:


You'll be a Rector yourself one day and, when you are, just remember one thing - if something works leave it alone.


In September, 1969 the janitor's prophecy was fulfilled when Mr Hamilton succeeded Mr Hope as the fifth Rector of the Harris Academy. Nor was his advice forgotten! The new Rector was conscious of the weight of tradition which had been established by his predecessors and was determined that the standards and values which were an essential part of the Harris tradition would be maintained.


This was not to be an easy task, for fundamental changes were underway in the structure of education throughout Scotland. Some of the features which had characterised teaching within the Harris since its inception had already begun to alter in response to the changing views of society. Almost twenty years before, for example, an innovation had been introduced which seemed to question the traditional organisation within the school:


In the last week of February an experiment was carried out in the school. This experiment consisted of mixing the boys' classes with the girls' classes. Of course this plan like any other had its advantages and disadvantages, for instance, the passing along corridors must cause quite a disturbance, but, on the other hand, it lets each class know the standard of the other. Already, the scheme is most satisfactory and in years to come I believe it will be one of these ideal things. The scheme only includes the primary classes for the experiment has yet to be introduced to the Higher Grade. I suppose it will eventually reach the Secondary Department.


The author of these sentiments was correct when he assumed that such a mixing of classes would reach the secondary "eventually". Even in the sixties, the segregation of classes according to sex was still the norm, although some of the more progressive staff were beginning to experiment with the idea of mixing boys and girls in the same class. The arrival of a new Rector encouraged this change in attitude. Although certain departments stoutly resisted the change, the introduction of mixed classes was eventually accepted by most of the staff and the early seventies saw this policy being generally adopted.


This was merely the precursor of a more dramatic change - the introduction of a mixture of academic abilities into a single class. The original experiment of 1952 had been a response, not to a firmly-held belief in the benefits of a mixed class, but to a report by H.M. Inspectors which had criticised the range of abilities to be found within a single-sex group. Rather than being an attempt to introduce a co-educational primary class, the introduction of mixed classes was merely a form of academic streaming, intended to ensure that each primary group was composed of pupils of the same ability range. Many years later, combined classes of boys and girls became the norm but the justification for such a change stemmed from a considerably different viewpoint.


The traditional pattern of education in Scotland had long been one of selection according to ability. At the end of primary school, each pupil would sit the Qualifying exam - the dreaded "Qually" - and children would be assigned to either senior secondary or junior secondary schools on the basis of the marks attained. By the mid-sixties, the wisdom of such a policy was being questioned. Should a child be designated a "first-class" or "second-class" pupil at such an early age? Were the problems being experienced by many schools, and perhaps by society as a whole, the result of such a drastic selection process? Such questions were long debated before a radical change was introduced. Instead of an early process of selection which was likely to determine a child's future, every child was entitled to an equal opportunity within a system of comprehensive schools.


This change was introduced gradually and the new first-year intake of some three hundred comprehensive pupils entered the school in August, 1973. No longer were first year classes drawn up according to sex or supposed ability, but instead the children were grouped into twelve mixed-ability classes of both boys and girls identified by their house labels. It would be wrong to state that this change did not have its opponents. As in most schools throughout the country, the Harris had its prophets of doom who foretold disaster in terms of both academic standards and general behaviour. The Rector was not numbered amongst them for he was determined that all pupils, regardless of ability, should feel that the Harris was "their school". A vital part in ensuring this was to be played by the annual visits to Falkland.