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Silence of the heads

The Scottish minister behind the Columba 1400 headteachers' leadership academy has called for a "moratorium of silence" to allow schools the space to think, reflect and put into practice the wisdom they have accrued over the years.

The Rev Norman Drummond told the fifth national enterprising careers conference in Glasgow last week that bureaucracy was getting in the way of education and there were "too many initiatives swirling around".

Mr Drummond, addressing an audience of teachers and pupils, said: "We know from Columba 1400 research that forms are being filled, sometimes slightly incorrectly, to get them off your desk."

He echoed the words of Baroness Helena Kennedy when she delivered the 2004 annual lecture of the General Teaching Council for Scotland and was asked what she would do if she were made education minister for a day.

She replied that she would stop measuring everything and give teachers the chance to do what they came into teaching to do - inspiring and challenging young people.

Mr Drummond cited the film Band of Brothers, which portrayed a platoon of soldiers who refused to let any "chicken shit" get in the way of their main purpose. "How much chicken shit is getting in the way of what you are doing?" Mr Drummond asked. "What proportion of each person is going towards the core purpose and what proportion is there on chicken shit?"

He told the audience that his running partner was Des Farmer, 68-year-old brother of Sir Tom Farmer, who had joined his brother's business because as a young teacher he was disillusioned by the attitude he found in the staffroom and frustrated by the number of initiatives.

Mr Farmer had a vision of making a difference, but that had not happened because of the "hierarchy of discontent and cynicism" in the staffroom.

"How many people like that have been lost to the teaching profession in the past 40 years?" he asked. "Are we welcoming the young Des Farmers into teaching? Is it time to do things in a different way?"

Mr Drummond added: "I know of teachers who inspire us but also those who depress us because of their cynicism."

What was needed was encouragement for teachers, headteachers and directors to "enjoy the silence in education".

Mr Drummond went on to challenge what he described as the Scottish culture of pessimism and false modesty. "We have to learn more about giving and receiving compliments and we need to encourage failure," he said. Failure was the darkness through which wisdom emerged.

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