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Liddell kept silent under terror regime

James Breen, the formidable ex-heidie of St Patrick's High, Coatbridge, won honourable mention at the Headteachers' Association of Scotland conference in St Andrews last week.

The good old days of schooling at St Pat's were recalled by Helen Liddell, Labour's education spokeswoman, who confessed to a regime of terror during her early years. She rarely uttered a word at school, hard though that is to believe.

"It was the type of place where they'd make you kneel down to check the length of your skirt," she reminisced about the mini-skirt era.

Such fond memories have obviously influenced her current thoughts, not all of which sat easily with the broad-minded heads of today.

The Peter Mullen Memorial First Question To the Guest Speaker (the now retired heidie of Holyrood in Glasgow was traditionally always first on his feet) fell to "wee" Michael Graham, head of the merger-threatened John Bosco Secondary in Glasgow.

He began: "I am the smallest headteacher of the smallest secondary, about to become the ex-headteacher - but that's another matter. For five years of secondary education, I was terrified of James Breen - and I was principal teacher of physics at the time."

Graham's question was lost in laughter but Liddell went on to relate tales of her recent visit to Denmark and how progressive schools were in involving pupils. Jim Dalziel, head of Eastbank Academy, Glasgow, and well-known Teddy Bears' fan, could not resist the bait. "I praise Denmark too, every week whenever I see Brian Laudrup," he admitted, before questioning other Danish manifestations.

Liddell confessed she knew nothing of such sporting matters and was once known as the person who asked Kenny Dalglish if he was interested in football.

She did not support everything she saw in Danish classrooms. The picture of Brian's equally famous footballing brother, Michael, which she spotted on a classroom wall would not have gone down well in Scotland. He was not wearing his street clothes and also had omitted to don his football gear.

Liddell went down comparatively well with the barons of education, even if some suggested a day or two in schools would actually benefit her policies. Alistair Johnston, Kelso High and in-coming president, paid her high tribute. "We've not seen a politician with such dynamism for some time."

Amid guffaws, everyone knew whom he meant.

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