19th February 2010 at 00:00

It's the new Education Secretary's first time facing the education committee. Mike Russell's predecessor cut an increasingly embattled figure during these encounters, but he's eager to go on the offensive.

Russell is fastidiously polite, demurring to the conventional decorum of committee business. He thanks the convener ever so much for letting him jabber on about Curriculum for Excellence. He purports to be delighted to field even the most awkward of questions.

But don't be fooled. When the Tories' Liz Smith irks him, he suggests - to her evident annoyance - that it might be an idea to inform herself better by visiting a school or two. It's like watching a professional wrestler tickle an opponent under the chin, then deliver a crafty elbow to the kidney.

The education committee can be a bolshie lot, and Labour's Ken Macintosh decides to hit back, daring to quiz the Education Secretary on the SNP's cherished National qualifications. After two hours of strained civility, a ding-dong ensues.

Macintosh thinks Russell is patronising and a rubbish leader. Russell thinks Macintosh should be happy with his promise that the all-knowing Graham Donaldson will answer his questions instead - it's becoming standard to pass all educational bucks to the former HMIE chief's much- vaunted review.

But the lasting memory of Russell's committee debut is a bizarre sub-plot. The previous day, the Daily Mail had opined that CfE was a load of neo- hippie guff, because, rather than sending teenage thugs to Guantanamo Bay, it advocated a spot of kite-flying.

Russell risks fanning the Mail's wrath further, by insisting that kites could be the cornerstone of numeracy, literacy and world peace. A wistful atmosphere descends. Education should always be about fun, sighs SNP colleague Christina McKelvie, whose bestest ever time at school was spent singing all the songs from Mary Poppins.

Which got us wondering, are there any tunes from Julie Andrews' magnum opus to sum up CfE? How about "A Man Has Dreams", "A Spoonful of Sugar" or "The Perfect Nanny (State)"? Not many would subscribe to "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" yet. But there's always "Let's Go Fly a Kite".

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