THE old building looks its age. It has a right to, I suppose, being one hundred years old this year. But it's sound enough, and pupils with morning faces still creep like snails unwillingly towards it. Perhaps a touch of paint on the window frames and a brisk rub down of the red sandstone? After all, it's the most prominent building in Kilmarnock, lording it on a hill overlooking the centre of the town.

But money is tight, and any that's available should perhaps be spent on equipment and books rather than cosmetics.

And yet, it's Kilmarnock Academy, my alma mater. It speaks of history, of continuity and tradition, and, in my case, of six years immersed in that rarefied soup that was Scottish senior secondary education in the fifties.

It's where Big Bill Craig failed heroically to teach me Latin, and in doing so wielded a mean strap. It's where Mr Spiller, a dominie much given to funny voices, regularly shouted at me that when it came to French, ''You ken rien!''

It's also the building in which, every Monday, my male classmates and I put half a crown in the kitty, and the one who got belted the most during the week lifted the lot on Friday.

On Thursday afternoons and all day Friday we were falling over ourselves to be belted black and blue. What price the strap as an aid to class control?

Now centenary celebrations are under way. O me miserum, Valerius in taverna est, hic haec hoc, and the years peel away as I realise that Big Bill managed to impart some Latin after all.

So perhaps, as part of the celebrations, the building really should receive a judicious slap of paint and a going-over with a wire brush? Certainly there are plans to floodlight it, and a new flagpole, complete with saltire, has been plonked atop the watchtower. There's even an appeal to repair the old clock on the west facade. Even in my

day its hands were perm-

anently stilled.

And that's not all. A dinner dance is being organised, with former pupils being enticed back to buy tickets at #20 a throw. Commemorative mugs, pens and Christmas cards are even now on offer. Histories are being written, and art exhibitions planned.

William and Hugh McIlvanney were taught at Kilmarnock Academy. So too were Jim McColl of the Beechgrove Garden, Billy Kay, Robert Colquhoun the artist, and Stewart Conn the playwright. And, uniquely in Scotland, the school produced two Nobel Prize-winners, Sir Alexander Fleming and Lord John Boyd-Orr.

Next to the old building is an extension in late sixties brutal style. Practical maybe, but not a patch on the birthday boy. It was tacked on because education never stands still. It expands and contracts, it moves forward, it moves sideways, and sometimes it moves back.

So what of Kilmarnock Academy nowadays? Does it wear its history well? After all, the building may be one hundred years old, but the school itself goes back to the early years of the seventeenth century - possibly earlier. Is it equipped to handle future change? And is a school's history just so much baggage, or does it fulfil a useful purpose?

Carole Ford has been rector of Kilmarnock Academy since October of last year.

''Because of its historical background, this school is in a strong position,'' she says. ''All schools work hard to make children feel they belong to something, and the fact that there's a history here makes

that easier.''

This pupil identification seems to have worked. One of the things that surprised Ford when she took up her post was the number of ex-pupils who, while revisiting the town, turned up at the door and asked to be shown round.

''It's much more than any other school I've worked in, and I've worked in lots.''

The past hundred years have seen the school go from a fee-paying establishment with primary and secondary pupils to a senior secondary for 11-plus successes, and finally, in 1969, to a comprehensive. It has, to that extent, reflected most of the modern changes in Scottish education. And no doubt it now reflects today's problems: recruitment into the teaching profession faltering; low morale; paperwork proliferating; teaching salaries dropping 50% in real terms over the last 20 years; and money to fund books and equipment hard to find.

But, maintains Ford, a good Scottish education is still second to none.

''Expectations nowadays are much higher about what schools can do,'' she says. ''We have to work much harder than we used to to meet these expectations. When you do that, there are gains and losses. But the overall effect is much more positive for far more pupils than it ever was in the past.''

And people are much more aware, she claims, of accountability. They know that the school is answerable to the local education authority, whereas in the fifties people may only have had a hazy idea of who ran the service. So what of the future? Is comprehensive education the ultimate? Is it working? Ford can see no alternative, and defends it vigorously.

''I came through a two-tier comprehensive system in my native Renfrewshire. The stigma and the effect on pupils of being told at a certain age that they'd failed was far too high a price to pay for anyone else's gain. I think people carry that with them all their days. So comprehensive education is a much more humane way to educate people.''

She admits that there were problems when it was first introduced. There was a dilution at the very top end of education. It became more difficult to provide what she called ''academic'' education.

When that was all a senior secondary had provided in the past, it was easy for them. But when comprehensive education came along, with a much broader range of abilities in

the school, this academic education suffered.

''But we've had comprehensive education for a long time, and I think we've now cracked it. Schools are capable of delivering the top end of education while catering for

all abilities.''

Latin no longer features in Kilmarnock Academy's curriculum. Neither does Greek nor Russian, which were also taught in my day. But things move on, I suppose. Change is every bit as certain as death

and taxes.

Still, the old building remains, thank God. Maybe we all need something like it to cling to. Even if, for the first time in years, the hands on its clock begin once again to measure the inexorable march of time for the rest of us.

n For further information about Kilmarnock Academy celebrations, or to make a donation to the clock appeal, phone Alec Ferguson on 01563 525509, ext 138.