Time to examine flaws in the system

Exam room
Exam room

This week The Southern’s electronic mail box was brimming, if such things can brim, with letters from the good folk of Jedburgh.

Good folk, but unhappy folk – at least those who mailed us. They took severe umbrage at my colleague Adam Drummond’s front-page story on the disappointing exam results achieved at the town’s secondary school.

Local councillors, the parent council and a retired teacher were among those who maintained we had let the town and school down by revealing the fact their school – according to official figures published by Scottish Borders Council no less – had the worst record of the nine secondary schools in the region. Take a peak at our Viewpoint pages and you’ll see just what we have been accused of.

It didn’t surprise me. During 47 years in journalism I’ve seen and heard it all before. It’s called shooting the messenger. Nobody likes bad news, especially if it affects you or your community. That is perfectly understandable.

But local weekly newspapers – wherever they are – don’t make the news, they report it. Good or bad.

Yes, Jedburgh Grammar School was in the latter category last week. But look at pages 78 and 79 this week. Go on, Jed letter writers, have a peek. See, good news coverage of a Jedburgh Grammar School student winning the blue ribband 100 metres sprint at Morebattle Games. Craig Smith was Top of the Tofts.

In our community there will be good news and bad news. Happy events and tragic events. Smiles and tears. It is not the job of a weekly newspaper to act as a sieve or cherry pick – to print the good and hide the bad under the desk.

Perhaps those who shot their arrows in our direction would have been better aiming them at whoever was responsible for – according to official statistics – the exam failures at Jedburgh Grammar School. And their target should really be those in authority who have tinkered, tweaked and twisted what was an inspirational education system in Scotland that used to the envy of many. Maybe, just maybe, the tweaking, twisting and tinkering should now be used to get our education system back to what it was.

The education system didn’t fail me – I probably failed the system. Primary classes in Galashiels, at first the newly-built Balmoral and then the seemingly-ancient Burgh, were fine. But apart from English and history, I hadn’t a lot of time for my four years at Galashiels Academy.

Looking back, there were some great teachers who truly took an interest in the education of their pupils – even those who showed a distinct lack of interest. I’m sure the same can be said today – it’s the system that’s letting them down.

I was going to end with a quote from the great actor Robin Williams who took his own life this week – something from that memorable film The Dead Poets Society. But instead, I love the line from the late American actor and social critic George Carlin: “I was thinking about how people seem to read the Bible a lot more as they get older: then it dawned on me – they’re cramming for the final exam.”