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One-liners all round in North Ayrshire

Jotter is nowadays the lucky recipient of invitations to exotic locations such as Forfar, Lochgilphead and Alloa. A visit to Glasgow will no longer be enough to keep abreast with half of Scotland come April Fool's Day.

And so to Irvine last week for the first education committee meeting of the North Ayrshire Council, housed in the offices of Cunninghame District Council cheek by jowl with Asda and the McDonald's "drive-thru".

These meetings are going to be brisk affairs if education chair Tom Morris keeps up his current form. Not a man to mince his words, Morris was told that the only apology for non-attendance came from SNP councillor Robert Rae and declared: "Oh, that's a handicap."

Morris summed up a lengthy discussion on the role of parents thus: "Everyone happy? Thank God for that."

The chair didn't spare his officials either. Brian Gardner, the directorate's number two, was being closely questioned on the reorganisation of the careers service in Ayrshire following the disappearance of Strathclyde. "Is that aw right, David?" Morris asked fellow councillor David O'Neill following a Gardner clarification. "He'll just go over it again if you keep at it."

The following item on the Ayrshire educationbusiness partnership saw Gardner get his own back. "Keep it simple this time, Brian," urged Morris. "You're just blinding them with science."

Gardner obliged: "This item closely mirrors the previous one and the arrangements being proposed are similar."

Morris learnt his skills of chairmanship in a hard school: the Educational Institute of Scotland. He has chaired its Glasgow association and Strathclyde executive. Or perhaps it was his job lecturing at Stow College, where his claim to fame is having taught Billy Connolly on day-release from the shipyards, which left him with a gift for one-liners.

North Ayrshire's political leadership is not just drawn from the ranks of further education, however. Margaret Highet, one of the education vice-chairs, is the retired head of services for deaf children in Ayrshire. Irene Hamilton Oldfather, the other vice-chair, used to lecture in American history at Arizona University. She chaired a school board for four years and works part-time for the European Parliament.

This high-powered trio are complemented by John Taylor, who chairs the Forum for Scottish Education, and is Church of Scotland rep. Taylor is no stranger in these parts, having been head of Auchenharvie Academy in Stevenston.

North Ayrshire also, of course, enjoys the distinction of being the only new authority with an opt-out ballot on its hands. But, with such talent at the top, why would parents of children at Gateside primary want to depart from its gentle care?

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