Education needs new extensions of existing initiatives like a conservatory needs a bidet

6th January 2012 at 00:00
I have seen many changes in two decades - not least a deterioration in my analogies

It was 20 years ago today, give or take. I'd been in the staffroom discussing an item of education news. A Dalek Conservative government had invaded the country and its cry was "Privatise! Privatise!" The next target was to be HMIE. I began to postulate a private inspector who worked for "Fifty a day plus expenses".

"You should write this stuff down," someone said, doubtless in the hope that it would stop me talking. I did write it down and sent it to The Herald's education pages. They rejected it.

Perhaps they now feel like the record company who turned down the Beatles. Perhaps not. TES Scotland editor of the era Willis Pickard was more enthusiastic and published the piece. I hit him with two follow-ups just when he happened to be on the lookout for a columnist and the rest, in the parlance of the 5-14 initiative, is environmental studies.

At the time, I didn't realise I'd be paid. I told my wife I'd be happy if I got 10 columns out of it. When I got to 50, I wrote my worst article ever, about having had 50 articles printed. I tried to do a John Mitchell and have a collection published. One publisher almost went for it, but his marketing department said no. I later found out that his marketing department was his wife.

Reader's voice: "Well, Gregor, you must have seen some changes in those 20 years." Yes, I have. I now drive a car with automatic transmission and it isn't a Skoda. More significantly, we have had devolution. I could sarcastically say we now have the opportunity to muck up education in a uniquely Scottish way, instead of having it mucked up UK-style, but that would be to ignore the work of many good people.

Big change number two is Curriculum for Excellence. There are many schools that have embraced worthwhile initiatives such as Assessment is for Learning, enterprise and the development of thinking. These have been added on to existing courses, with an effect similar to extending a house several times over. The result may be functional, but not necessarily as liveable-in as rebuilding from the ground up, with the chance to throw out some of that Seventies furniture you don't really need.

You might go for interdisciplinary rooms. A metaphorical sofa in the kitchen could be cosy, but a bidet in the conservatory would be gratuitous and, presumably, little used. Cutting the number of rooms from eight to five should only be done if it's the right thing for the occupants, not because it's cheaper.

Oh dear - I think I've marked 20 years at TESS with my most tortuous analogy ever.

Gregor Steele, Scottish Schools Equipment Research Centre

Gregor Steele has mentioned Skoda cars in about 40 TESS articles.

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