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Naked truths

John Muir, one of Highland's quality improvement officers for schools and occasional commentator in these columns, is no stranger to Finland, as he tells us this week (Viewpoint, page 22).

But, on his first visit, Muir certainly found himself a stranger to some of its customs, as Peter Peacock may well do on his trip next week. He recalls: "Just before I was due to leave, my colleague arranged for a farewell meeting with the inspectors, headteachers, teachers and education officers I had met.

"Before a lavish meal I was invited to join them in the ultimate luxury for a Finn, a smoke sauna, in an idyllic setting among birch trees on the edge of a beautiful lake, into which we would later plunge. As I sat there naked with colleagues who had become my friends for a season, I tried to imagine myself in a similar situation in Scotland.

"Could I ever find myself relaxing in the altogether, surrounded by smoke and steam from stones on a log fire, discussing education with my district inspector, local headteachers and the area education manager at a secluded spot by the edge of a loch in Sutherland?

"As I shared my musings with my Finnish colleague, he just laughed and said: 'In Finland, the sauna is the great equaliser. No one can tell your rank when you have no clothes on which to pin the stripes'."

The Education Minister has been warned.

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