Angela Constance: My best teacher

18th March 2011 at 00:00
A Higher history teacher gave the education minister some vital lessons for political life

I probably didn't really engage with education fully until I was about 14. Prior to that, I was a little disengaged. Not problematic, but disengaged. When I went into third year, I made a conscious decision to apply myself to school. It was that dawning and realisation that I would have to make the most of this and get something out of it if I wanted to go and do things I wanted to do.

My strengths at school were English, history, modern studies and art, and I was competent at things like maths and accounting and good at arithmetic. I didn't have a natural aptitude for science and languages, I have to say. By the age of 14, they certainly weren't encouraging me to continue with them.

Out of all the good English and social studies teachers I had, I would opt for my Higher history teacher, Mr Fletcher, who taught me at Bo'ness Academy. I was in fifth year, so I would have been 16. He was fair, firm, clearly a teacher who enjoyed the company of young people.

He was very good, because he taught me a lot of skills that I continue to use daily, like how to put together an argument, both in writing and verbally. You need that schematic, structured approach; it is not just a blizzard of facts and figures and what you know. You have to be able to weave an argument and link things together.

Obviously, part of a politician's daily life is about communicating, about presenting an argument, about using facts or figures and arguing in a compelling way. You try to structure your thoughts, your arguments, and I have to say those practical presentation skills and skills about how to learn were things I used as a social worker as well.

Mr Fletcher had a good sense of humour. I think humour is a good way to engage with people. I think it's underused, or wrongly used, in a lot of professions.

I never heard from him again and I have absolutely no idea what he would make of my career. If I spoke to him again, I would give him a big thanks. He was an inspirational character and I just hope, whatever he is doing, that he has enjoyed his life as a teacher, because he was certainly very good and very accomplished.

I'm a former social worker and people would often ask me if that wasn't hard, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I hope that's the same for Mr Fletcher as a teacher, because I have no doubt that teaching, in the 80s or today, is not without its challenges.

I have very mixed memories about school. Senior school I have good memories of. I just wouldn't want to be a teenager and go through all that again. My recollection of being a teenager is a time of great uncertainty, not really knowing who you are. As a teenager, and particularly a young woman, you could be quite hung up on things like your size or your appearance. I would have been the same size as I am now, a little bit taller than average, probably a wee bit fuller-figured than average, which isn't an issue in an adult, but at 13 it is.

I changed schools a lot, but I certainly had friends. Probably, as I got older, I learned how to make friends and keep them, and how to socialise better. While I would have had friends in primary school, and maybe this is just the norm for everyone, as teenagers you develop closer relationships.

Up to 14, I was quite interested in physical education and sport. But then I got far more into my studies and tried to find all sorts of ways to get out of physical education. I never really got back into exercise until I was in my 30s. I believe that's not uncommon in girls.

Angela Constance was speaking to Julia Belgutay

Personal profile

Born: 1970 in Blackburn, West Lothian

Education: West Calder High, Bo'ness Academy, Glasgow University and Stirling University

Career: Social worker, mental health officer, local councillor, MSP for Livingston since 2007, Minister for Skills and Lifelong Learning since December 2010.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today