Donald, where's your long trousers?;Comment;Opinion

30th January 1998 at 00:00
When I heard a colleague remark that Donald Dewar had decided to go to Holyrood, I assumed that this was just another placing request, and that a 12-year-old boy called Donald Dewar somewhere in east Edinburgh had just come to the conclusion that he wanted to join the ranks of those who receive their secondary education in Holy Rood High. We get so absorbed in the minutiae rerum that we can forget there is a whole universe beyond the obsessive portals of the school.

Holy Rood is the nearest secondary school to the site of the new parliament, not in yards or metres, you will understand, but by any means of transport other than helicopter or hot-air balloon. Travel in any direction from the new hub of power and bastion of democracy, other than through Holyrood Park, will lead only to gridlock and frustration. The park will conduct the weary traveller to the majesty of Arthur's Seat and the idyllic splendour of Duddingston Loch. It will also lead to a haven for 790 teenagers at Holy Rood High.

It would be interesting to speculate how the bright and bushy tailed members of the shining new parliament would cope, if they were subjected to some of the conditions enjoyed by teaching staff. An innovative suggestion might be that MSPs will meet constituents in batches of up to 33 at a time, and that the group will be changed every 40 or 50 minutes. During this time they will be expected to ensure that the particular needs of all individuals are catered for. Just when they feel that they are getting somewhere, a parliamentary official will gleefully enter and deposit a few hundred blank report forms to be completed regarding progress to date.

League tables will be published on the number of issues they have effectively dealt with. No account whatsoever is to be taken of the areas they serve, the socio-economic conditions of their constituents or any other factor whatsoever. Raw scores will be published without commentary and the press will be invited annually to pillory the hindmost in merciless fashion.

There will be a superfluity of quality assurance mechanisms, including national inspections from central government, local evaluations from the constituencies and a tireless army of researchers scrutinising their every move. Targets will be set for each MSP indicating the improvement expected in the year ahead. These targets will encompass the number of sessions attended, votes cast, constituency surgeries conducted and babies kissed.

A new, thrusting ministry of Other Things MSPs Could Be Doing will be established to ensure that no initiative is completed before another is introduced. Following the time-honoured pattern of Scottish education, the parliament will work out its plans for years three and four, followed by years one and two and then jump to years five and six. The entire planning process will take at least 20 years and will culminate in a grand plan for the future entitled Harder Still. By the time that arrives, most of those involved at the beginning will have taken early retirement.

Regular vilification will be provided by the media at no extra charge to MSPs, a service currently only offered to teachers. A daily dose of ill-informed criticism by local and national media will do wonders for members' humility and will bolster the widely held view that nobody in the public sector can be doing anything useful.

The new parliament will seek to establish a high profile in the local community, and members will undoubtedly want to make a favourable impression on the voters of the future. Since traffic congestion will prevent them reaching any other secondary school in less than three hours, they may wish to consider the occasional excursion to Holy Rood. We can provide appropriate courses and activities for a number of the potential leading lights. Donald himself may benefit from the new drama module on idiosyncratic speech patterns, while the youthful Brian Wilson may prefer some five-a-side football training.

Whatever their preferences, we can cater for all tastes and inclinations. However, all should bear in mind that our pupils pride themselves on being courteous and well behaved. They will not take kindly to any rowdiness in the neighbourhood. MSPs will have to maintain high standards of behaviour if they are going to have as neighbours such discerning groups as the Royal Family in the palace and the pupils of Holy Rood High across the park.

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

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