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Russell's star turn loses its shine as Swinton snubs 'excellence group'

No sooner was the ink dry - figuratively speaking - on the Education Secretary's press release boasting celebrity sign-ups to Curriculum for Excellence expert teams than the siren voices of Scottish education were uttering words of caution.

Lindsay Paterson, professor of educational policy at Edinburgh University, was one of the first to do so: it was not a marketing campaign that was needed at this late stage but "detailed, hard work on syllabuses, lesson plans and resources", he said.

But more presciently, he warned of the dangers of bringing in star names to the programme: "These are lay people; they are not themselves classroom teachers, and they will not have the time to do the detailed work that is required."

And within hours of the Scottish Government's jubilant announcement, his prediction was indeed fulfilled.

Oscar-winning actress Tilda Swinton and film-maker Mark Cousins claimed their names had "appeared in error".

They were not the best people for the group, they said in a statement, "because of their schedules" and "because there are better people to do the job".

Just to make an embarrassing situation even worse, their discussion with Michael Russell had "opened up areas of disagreement", they added.

Other big names remained committed, insisted a Scottish Government spokeswoman. These included authors Alexander McCall Smith and Janice Galloway, TV presenter Amanda Hamilton, meteorologist and former weather presenter Heather Reid, and ex-Scotland rugby captain Jon Petrie.

Discussions were continuing with Mr Cousins, said Mr Russell.

The celebrities will sit beside top teachers on "excellence groups", based mainly around subjects, which will offer advice on the future development of the curriculum.

Alexander McCall Smith's publicist said he was happy to be involved in the English group, adding: "He is not an expert in education or the curriculum and can only offer his support and his experience as a writer for both children and adults."

Keir Bloomer, one of the original architects of Curriculum for Excellence and chair of the excellence group on higher-order skills, defended the concept.

The idea, he said, was to "inject intellectual ambition into the curriculum", something that had not figured highly enough.

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