Down to brass tacks on excellence

25th April 2008 at 01:00
"Ev'rybody says I'm crazy 'cause I just don't knowThere ain't no surf in Portobello-who-ho"
"Ev'rybody says I'm crazy 'cause I just don't knowThere ain't no surf in Portobello-who-ho ... ". So runs one of my current favourite MP3 tracks. It is 30-odd years old and was sung by an Edinburgh punk band called The Valves. Get Googling. You won't be disappointed.

Being the only non-musical member of my nuclear family, I tend only to sing along to music in the car. Tootling along the A70 Lang Whang with three cylinders of raw Daewoo power at the command of my right foot, I belt out the lines about Fun City, sewage and the gasworks with all the confidence of the dog in the VW Polo television advertisement. (Not seen it? Get Googling, etc, etc.)

Occasionally, like the Polo passenger pooch, I have fretful periods. Coming home from Q Division a few weeks ago I began to worry, as I crossed the Forth, that I had not set the building burglar alarm properly (I had). Some days later, I became angst-ridden about brake pads (which were fine).

Today, I'm uneasy about the article I wrote a fortnight ago. In it, I tried to convey the joy of simple physics experiments that did not use sophisticated apparatus. Fair enough. It helps make the subject seem more accessible.

What I'm concerned about is that it might have been thought I was inferring that good science equipment doesn't matter. It does. A Geiger counter that looks as if it belongs in a 1950s' B movie may well still do the job, but what message does it send about science to pupils who next period will be in a carpeted business studies suite in front of a state-of-the-art LCD monitor?

Some people don't like throwing away serviceable gear. Fine. Give it away to the Third World via

Most schools are stuck with wood and brass because of a lack of cash. I'll say now, in case I fret next week that I gave the impression that it doesn't matter, that the changes in methodology proposed by A Curriculum for Excellence are important. Now, could we please have some money for Equipment for Excellence too?

Gregor Steele wonders if, as he approaches his 48th birthday, he should still be listening to The Valves.

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