Every Bond needs his Q

It cannot have escaped your notice that there is an important 40th birthday coming up. It is of an institution rather than a person - everyone in education is either over 40 or a probationer or both. Yes, for four decades this lot have dispensed wisdom and practical advice to thousands of teachers.

I refer, of course, to the Scottish Schools Equipment Research Centre, hereafter SSERC or Q Division.

My first encounter with Q Division was when I was at teacher training college. Our Moray House lecturers arranged a visit to the old Broughton Street premises in Edinburgh which, if I recall correctly, were disguised as an old church. There were racks of surplus electric motors available at knock-down prices to schools. A man was operating a train set with the aid of a state-of-the-art BBC Micro computer. I could have stayed for a month.

I came to appreciate SSERC's bulletins with their ideas for entertaining experiments and demonstrations. As a departmental head, I continue to find its guidance invaluable, underpinned as it always is by the belief that practical work has a key role in the science class.

As a secondee, I have been lucky enough to work with the Qs on a number of occasions. Far from being nerdy types who would rather play with trains than teach weans, they are men and women of wit and learning. Most know more about the Scots language than I do, even the wee man frae Durham.

Latterly, through its involvement with CPD initiatives such as the Glasgow and Lanarkshire Learning for Understanding in Science initiative (Gallus - no, I'm not making this up), SSERC has become as much of an intellectual Q Division as one that deals in (sometimes literally) nuts and bolts.

That other famous 40-year-old, this paper itself, reported on SSERC's science faculty head course a couple of weeks ago. I had a gig at that event, along with several others, from classroom teachers to Curriculum for Excellence types and HMIE. Where was the link between formative assessment strategies or thinking skills and computer-controlled Hornbys? It existed.

People were talking about enhancing classroom experiences, about what worked.

This year marks my own 40th year in education, if you don't count Motherwell parish Sunday school which, apart from the Tufty Club, was my only semi-formal pre-five school experience. While I have no intention of teaching for the next four decades, I will hopefully continue to learn for some time to come. Here's hoping that SSERC and The TES Scotland are around at least as long as I am.

Happy birthday.

Gregor Steele's contribution to the SSERC course involved disposable pudding plates, Blu-Tac and luminescent plastic rods.

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