Jack McConnell

12th April 2013 at 01:00
Four smart women shaped Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale's primary days, but a secondary maths teacher was his guiding force

I have particularly good memories - both as people and their influence on me - of four women who taught me at primary in various composite classes at different times. Lamlash was a small primary school - it had between 80 and 90 pupils when I was there.

In my time there I had four different teachers: Isobel Craig, who taught me in Primary 1 and 2; Mary McNicol, who taught me for Primary 3 and part of Primary 4; Margaret Alexander - the rest of Primary 4 and Primary 5; and Joyce Scott - Primary 6 to 7.

They were all relatively experienced teachers and each of them was in her own way inspiring. They were smart and they passed that on - they were tough but they were also engaging.

Mary McNicol remembers me saying when I was in Primary 3 that I wanted to be a sums teacher. To be honest, they all had that impact on me in terms of things that I became interested in or good at - mathematics, history, the world. These women played a big part in developing that interest, pushing me beyond my limits, making me ambitious, encouraging me. Every one of them at some point pulled me back from my instincts for poor behaviour which were there from time to time.

Joyce Scott said to me in recent years that her memory was that if there was ever a class discussion and she needed an opinion, she never doubted she would get one (from me).

I was very far from being a model student in secondary school but I was always conscious I couldn't let these women down - they had put in some effort and I should respond to that.

My maths teacher in secondary was a guy called Jimmy Stewart - and he's still teaching, although he must be pretty close to retirement now. In the brand new Arran High he was the only one who refused to move over to a brand new whiteboard.

Ten years before the belt was abolished, he never belted anyone. He had the best discipline in the school and that had a big impact on me. You didn't misbehave in his class at all and yet he never ever belted anyone - it was just sheer force of personality. He was young and played a lot of sports, so we played badminton and football with him outside school. It never compromised our teacherstudent relationship outside the classroom.

He used people to advantage - we were in fifth year and I had a bit of a flair for maths, so rather than let me finish early and get bored and disrupt the class, he would use me to help the kids further behind. He sat me next to someone who was struggling. My job was to finish my work, get it right and help him.

I think he would have been about 12 years older than me, so he must have been in his mid-20s when we were in our early teens. As I left school I was debating in my head whether to go to do accountancy at university or maths to become a maths teacher. His was the final conversation that persuaded me to choose the right path - to go with my heart. He said: "This is what you are, this is your own slot" - and he was absolutely right. He reinforced what I had known all along.

I had the incredible pleasure of meeting Joyce Scott, Mary McNicol and Margaret Alexander when I went back as first minister to open the new primary school building at Lamlash. I went back to see Jimmy Stewart when I was first minister and I see him occasionally on the island. I went back to his classroom once and he had got all his old marking books with the exam scores of his different students. He had got out my results and the marks I got for my prelims.

Jack McConnell was talking to Elizabeth Buie


Born - Irvine, 1960

Education - Lamlash Primary; Arran High; University of Stirling

Career - Maths teacher; general secretary, Scottish Labour Party; various ministerial roles in Scottish Executive following devolution - finance, external relations, education; first minister 2001-07; entered House of Lords in 2010 as the Rt Hon the Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale.

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