Haud me back, hen

8th October 2004 at 01:00
Scoop, the Scottish Executive's in-house journal, carries a most excellent training supplement in which ministers' lackeys - sorry, Her Majesty's finest and highly civil servants - are encouraged to sign up for speechwriting masterclasses.

"Remember, the mediocre speech tells. The good speech explains. The superior speech demonstrates. But the great speech inspires!"

Ministers and audiences want speeches of quality. "To achieve this we need to write fewer and better speeches," Scoop advises.

Such wishes look likely to be granted, judging by last week's big Budget speech by the then Finance Minister Andy Kerr. In a truly inspiring delivery, Kerr announced that the Executive was going to be "spending less on administration and more on delivering the services people want".

So which lemming wrote that, then?


To the BBC Scotland website and news that "Record numbers of first-year students will be offered crash-courses in basic English and grammar when they start their university courses".

This is all because of "plunging literacy levels in schools". It goes on:

"Some students could not write, spell or punctuate simple sentences."

Remedial classes are under way at several universities, including a fine institution known to the BBC as "Herriot-Watt".


Mark Irvine, former trade unionist and now sometime consultant and writer, never has much luck as a member of the General Teaching Council for Scotland. A ministerial appointment, Irvine has in the past been fiercely rebuked for misusing his GTC membership in a public forum.

A persistent thorn in the posterior of GTC members, Irvine's impatience with council procedures finally ran out last week after its failure to address his concerns about involving parents. Indeed, he claimed GTC convener Norma Anne Watson had described his proposals as "bonkers".

Watson, who some allege is more "Anne Robinson" than the Weakest Link inquisitor, fired back: "Bonkers is not in my vocabulary." She moved on at rapid pace: "Do we have a seconder? No. Motion falls."

Sadly, there was no traditional "goodbye" from Norma Anne Robinson.


Congratulations are due to Judith McClure, head of St George's School for Girls in Edinburgh, following her glowing testimonial from HMI.

"The highly regarded headteacher provided very good leadership to the school," according to the inspectors. "She had a clear strategic vision and successfully inspired the confidence of staff, pupils, parents and others."

This is just as well. For the effervescent McClure is also convener of Selmas, the Scottish Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society, under which hat she is constantly attempting to inspire all of us to scale ever greater heights in pursuit of excellence in leadership.

Must be a nice view from the summit.


To the Scottish Parliament to watch MSPs raising their game, this time in the education committee. It was good to take in the breathtaking surroundings: indeed, that was about all we could do since the sound system had all but broken down.

The agenda included a possible curriculum inquiry, which we thought the committee had been busy on before the summer recess; but perhaps we heard wrongly.

After much agonising over the inquiry remit, one bright spark had a thought: was the Executive not about to issue the outcome of the curriculum review which has been in train for more than a year, and should the committee not therefore wait? What a good idea, they all agreed. Well, that's what we heard anyway.


Pat O'Donnell, Scottish regional official for the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, was willing to go far beyond the call of duty when he heard that treasurer Roy Robertson was having problems getting time off to attend a training course at the union's Birmingham HQ.

So O'Donnell did the decent thing: he offered himself as a two-day supply teacher to Clackmannanshire to ease the situation. As a qualified teacher in both secondary and primary with a current GTC registration - and no mean musician - he expected no problems.

Alas, Clackmannanshire simply refused to consider his offer on the grounds that, since he had previously applied to join the authority's scheme of supply teachers, he was ineligible to be considered for employment.

A warning to us all.

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