'I am pleased that Scotland seems to be turning the corner'

7th January 2011 at 00:00
Education Secretary Michael Russell is used to being in the hot seat, but The TESS came up with its own unparliamentary questions. Emma Seith found out when he was last stunned into silence and who his favourite opposition MSP is

What has been your most excruciating experience as Education Secretary to date?

I can't think of one. I nearly turned up at the wrong school for a visit one day, but disaster was averted by a quick-thinking official.

What achievement has puffed your chest up with pride?

I tend not to puff up with anything. I am (though my opponents won't believe it) too self-critical to do so. But I am pleased that Scotland seems to be turning the corner in terms of education, with our good system becoming better and our difficult problems easing after much effort from my predecessor, Fiona Hyslop, and myself, and of course lots of other people as well.

If you were able to erase one aspect of the job, what would it be?

Negativity - whether from me, personally, from my officials, from local authorities, from the media or from the opposition. I think education should always try to accentuate the positive and in Scotland we must cultivate a "can do" attitude.

What task do you revel in most?

I really enjoy visiting schools. I also like helping to support teachers who are innovating or thinking ahead.

In an average week, how many hours do you work?

Difficult to say. I work most evenings when in Edinburgh, and when not on Government work I tend to be working as an MSP, including weekends. It would be an odd week that didn't have in it some 14-hour days, though when there are five or six of them, I feel it! And then there is the constant pressure of paper - a "box" to be gone through every day and weekends too.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

In education, probably my father, who entered teaching late in life but had a real enthusiasm for being in the classroom; it was educational politics and the climbers of educational greasy poles he didn't like. But then he didn't like politicians of any type. Outside education, a whole host of people.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

I am very impatient, but I shouldn't let it show. When I do, I really regret it because it is unkind to others and doesn't get results.

What is your most winning quality?

I don't bear a grudge and if I get testy, it only lasts for a moment. Then I apologise! And I have a good sense of humour - I hope!

When were you last stunned into silence?

I can't remember. But I would be if I ever heard a Labour education policy.

What's the most valuable lesson you've learnt over the past year?

You can't do everything at once.

Which opposition MSP do you most admire?

Several. For example, Karen Gillon in Labour was a great education committee convener in the first parliament and is a loss to the subject.

Tell us a funny story about a pupilschool visit?

In Barra I was shown into an early primary class being taught by an old friend with whom I used to work in TV, but who unfortunately could not be there for the day. So it fell to one of her colleagues to inform me that she thought I wouldn't mind lying on the floor and allowing the children to draw round me, as they were doing a project on giants! I lay down and the drawing was done - but the local MP who was with me took a surreptitious photo that ended up in the local paper.

What did you ask Santa for this Christmas?

A few days off with no one phoning, least of all a journalist from the Times Educational Supplement Scotland .

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