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It takes balls to be a brain guru

Tony Buzan, international man of mind-mapping, teased his audience throughout last week's North Lanarkshire "raising achievement" conference (not another one - Ed) by promising that at the end of the day he would show them "the most amazing thing they had ever seen".

As Michael O'Neill, the director of education, took his seat towards the end of the afternoon session, at least one delegate wondered if this was the surprise. But no, even greater delights were in store.

A key part of the brain guru's stage show is to get everyone involved in improving motor skills by juggling three small balls - and he means everybody, including the guests in the dear seats at the front of the auditorium in the Motherwell Civic Centre.

This resulted in the unforgettable sight of a senior Labour councillor, a professor of education, senior education officials and two members of Her Majesty's Inspectorate risking public humiliation by responding to Buzan's challenge.

In the parlance of school inspections, HMI Frank Crawford was assessed as "good" and his colleague Allan Armstrong as "fair": no one was judged to be in the "unsatisfactory" category. All the primary teachers in the audience were rated "very good", but then they are well used to juggling more than three things at once - if not necessarily balls.

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