In the admittedly unlikely event of someone asking me to name my favourite stretch of Scottish motorway, I would be torn between the M90 as it descends towards Perth and the M74 between Hamilton and Abington. The former is certainly more scenic, particularly if you drive it in autumn, the wind ruffling your hair as you pilot your recently recommissioned Triumph Spitfire northward. Yes this was a good couple of decades ago, and the fact that the Spitfire only made it home, written off, on a car transporter is water under the Friarton Bridge. The M74 is a different story, a story that begins in the last decade rather than the last century, a story of bittersweetness, guilt and redemption.
I was at the wheel of something much more staid, reliable and crashproof than a Triumph Spitfire. Probably my Felicia Estate or Kia. Seconded to work for a lady known as Auntie May, I was driving from my Hamilton base to a school on the edge of the county. I can't remember what was coming through the speakers, but I do recall a sudden attack of unease. I felt that I was being paid to listen to the radio. Hardly a day goes by when I ask myself whether I wouldn't be doing more good in the world standing in front of pupils. I loved my secondment, love my current job, loved most of my time in my last school, but not enough to contemplate going back to teach.
I found myself on the M74 a week or so ago. I'd been invited to see some SSERC-inspired work on teaching motion in the context of road safety by a teacher I'll call Ms H. Had I been a Daily Mail reader, I might have exploded in a geyser of bilious green ink when I got there. An S1 class was on the floor, moving toy cars on Ikea play mats. Curriculum-for- Excellence-dumbing-down-I-bet-health-and-safety-is-behind-it-all-and-Ms-H- is-probably-an-asylum-seeker-in-disguise.
Dumbing down, my bahookie. The S1 children were working on a concept that used to be introduced at S3 in the days of O grade and now finds itself in N5. The play mats were Ms H's own imaginative way of making it accessible. I saw a snapshot of a suite of lessons that included input from a police accident investigator, more play mats and all the familiar hardcore physics we know and love. To me, this was Curriculum for Excellence as it should be. The question "Why are we bothering with this?" was answered with every lesson. Children were becoming physicists, not experts in PowerPoint presentations. I drove back to Junction 8 with a song in my heart.
Gregor Steele, Scottish Schools Education Research Centre, quite likes the new M9, too.