I wasn't sure whether to watch High School – BBC Scotland's three-part documentary on Glasgow's Holyrood High.

After a nine hour day at school, watching more of the same is hardly entertainment.

In addition, as previously demonstrated, admitting documentary-makers into your world can be a big mistake.

Condensing a year of life in a complex organization like a 2000-pupil secondary school can only produce a snapshot – and the impression left will depend very much on where the camera is pointed and how the content is edited.

There are enough naysayers ready to give Scottish schools and their young people a negative spin without prime time television adding  fuel to the fire.

However, curiosity won the day, and I'm glad it did. The film-makers sought to capture the school's ethos rather than the day-to-day minutiae and, because of that, the overall viewing experience was extremely positive.

Sensibly, the cameras generally kept out of the classroom; there are already enough possible distractions in the classroom environment, and a camera crew would surely have changed the dynamic.

Instead we were given an insight into crucial periods in the pupils' year. Initially, we saw the first years settling in, and focused on the bravery of Zoe and Liam who, in their different ways, had challenges to overcome. Liam, in particular, personified the adage: "Out of the mouths of innocents and babes…"

At the other end of the school,  senior pupils preparing to move on were  highlighted, with head boy and girl elections, debating competitions, and selections for the annual trip to support children in Malawi, in collaboration with charity Mary's Meals.


The pressure of exams, the tense preparations for the school show, and the effects of truancy were also covered, providing a balance to the ‘feel good’ factor  generated by encounters with very positive pupils and some extremely supportive staff. There were disappointments, as well as successes, along the way, and pupils’ reactions to these setbacks said a lot for their maturity and strength of character.

Hands-on-Headteacher, Tom McDonald, two of his deputes – the sparky Gillian Mimnagh, and first year head Bernadette O’Shea – carried most of the staff focus in the three programmes. But, and to great and pleasing  effect, it was the pupils who were, quite rightly, at the heart of this documentary.

The final episode followed the pupils and staff to Malawi – the culmination of much preparation and fundraising throughout the year.  I found myself in tears as I watched the commitment and compassion of Holyrood's seniors, as they worked so hard, supporting children whose education experience was so different from their own.

And, as the final credits rolled, I realised that – apart from careful editing skills – the BBC Scotland team had made a successful series because they had let the pupils set the agenda, and, in so doing, had highlighted a familiar truth for those of us who work in Scotland's schools: we can be proud of our young people and the joy they bring, not just in their many huge achievements, but to everyday situations, as well.

So well done, BBC Scotland – and Hooray for Holyrood!