Athens of the North wanted;School management;The Sweeney

19th March 1999 at 00:00
When the ancient Athenians wanted to rid themselves of a troublesome politician, they would get together a contingent of like-minded chums and head for the Ekklesia, where they could vote using fragments of pottery called ostraka to send their adversary into exile. This process left us the term ostracism, but there is little trace of the Greek concept of democrateia in our modern version of democracy. The citizen of today cannot influence events in the direct manner initiated by the Greeks.

As we were together lamenting this decline, George Reid, Edinburgh's erudite languages adviser, pointed out that Creon, a humble tanner, succeeded Pericles as leader of the Athenian people, taking over after a succession of military men.

There are no tanners on the candidates' list for Holyrood, and the roll of occupations scarcely exemplifies the spread of employment of the Scottish people. Education has reasonable representation, with lecturers outnumbering schoolteachers, who perhaps can't make it to the selection meetings at this time of year because of the number of parents' meetings.

Most candidates have jobs which would be unrecognisable to the person in the street. Many are already involved in political life as researchers, consultants, assistants, party officials and sundry other apparatchiks. The professions are not present in force, and the proletariat will search in vain for shop-workers, bricklayers or even computer salesmen.

Role-models for young people are difficult to spot. Labour has only one candidate under 30, while the Conservatives have none. The SNP has several young blades, with Nicola Sturgeon in Govan already demonstrating that she can handle the education brief. She is a solicitor by occupation, but nobody is perfect.

It is fascinating to read of the swings in voting intentions on the road to Holyrood. The Government's perceived attitude to teachers is, we are told, a predominant factor influencing voters' intentions. Not the economy, not the health service, not the tartan tax, but the lack of support for teachers. The candidate who picks up the portfolio for education will have to maintain the emphasis on high quality and produce the means which will make it a reality.

A few names have already been touted for the job. Jack McConnell, former general secretary of the Scottish Labour Party, has plenty of experience of dealing with disruption as a teacher and as Blair's man in a recalcitrant country.

Ross Martin, responsible for education in the People's Republic of West Lothian, will have to overcome the substantial challenge of Denis Canavan in Falkirk West to win his ticket to Holyrood. We should not write off the Nats, and Miss Sturgeon may well defeat the underwhelming Labour candidate in Govan.

Whatever the result I hope that the researchers and analysts who will control our lives will apply their powers of research and analysis to finding ways of supporting schools and motivating teachers to produce the latter-day embodiment of Creon the Tanner.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher at Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh.

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