By Ann Kimmel
UNION is a beautiful word among Catholic girls in Kentish Town, north London. It means the smooth merging of Our Lady of Sion maintained grammar and La Sainte Union independent into one voluntary aided comprehensive.
It means a shining new building with well-equipped labs, small conference rooms, spacious lecture halls, 20 subjects offered at A-level. And, most of all, it means an end to fears of snobbishness and the desperate competition for marks.
Builders are still adding finishing touches to the grounds of the new £250,000 Saints Union Convent School. But, already well into the second half of their first terrh, all the 600 girls seem to feel settled in, even the ones who came from Sion Convent at Holloway, whose old school is being rebuilt into another comprehensive.
"We'd planned to merge for the past several years." Madame Joseph Marian, the lively Irish headmistress, told me. "But it was only last April that we decided to become a comprehensive."
The decision frightened some. parents especially. "Comprehensive" to them conjured up visions of an educational factory where the classes were enormous and no one knew anyone else.
"Some parents thought we'd lose the homely atmosphere we had before," said chemistry teacher Madame Angela, "But we don't think we've lost it."
To help everyone get acquainted Madame Joseph Marian spent all of last year teaching religion at Sian, so she would know all the new girls.
The 98-strong sixth form, 38 of them prefects, have also been a big help, shepherding the younger children into the new environment.
It is true that in the course of a week most teachers have a total of 2(10 pupils. and learning all their names at once is a tough job. But none of the classes have more than 30 pupils. A spirit of co-operation is evident from the physics laboratory to the Scripture tutorial.
One of the reasons for it is undoubtedly the fact that the school has five streams—from pre-university to just able to read ability—and they are divided into sets. That means if a pupil is good at maths but poor in Latin, she will be in the top group for maths and the bottom for Latin, but not a "top" or "bottom" pupil.
Madame Rita, who teaches religion, explained: "We're cutting out that feeling of failure that has been so awful for children. We don't give marks, 10 out of 10, only grades, A to F. It makes a big difference."
"We've not had a scrap of trouble," chimed in Madame Fidelis. "The pupils are more equally divided and its wonderful." Some of the girls work for G.C.E., some for the C.S,E. (School Certificate of Secondary Education).
But there have been more corrections for the teachers. more paperwork. And there have been some problems when pupils come to a subject with different backgrounds. On the whole, though, the teachers feel they have been able to cope.
What pleases them above all is the friendly, enthusiastic, co-operative atmosphere. At first the new girls from Sion in their blue uniforms were very shy, distant, apprehensive. They had heard the Sainte Union girls were snobs and didn't want to mix. But as they got acquainted, the suspicions melted away. The blue uniforms are being worn till they wear out, gradually replaced with Sainte Union green.
And at a recent netball match the most vociferous fans were a group waving their Sion blue caps and shouting "Come on, L.S.U.1"