Lessons in axe-wielding from Attila the Hun

11th February 2011 at 00:00

"Collegiality", "partnership", "interdisciplinary learning", "cross- curricular working". These days, Scottish education is so awash with lifeless euphemisms for "getting along" that it can make one yearn for a bit of blood and thunder. Little wonder, then, that ears pricked up when a much-respected former head revealed her admiration for Attila the Hun.

Insipid cross-examination is the usual drill for evidence-taking at the education committee. Last week, though, a dozen big hitters of Scottish education were assembled for a free-for-all on school management - a collection of egos, ideas and shaggy-dog stories that flew off at all manner of bizarrely entertaining tangents.

"I'm an outsider who doesn't know how your family works," insisted token English representative Denis Mongon, coming in peace - before describing the Scottish education family as "incestuous". It was a little like watching a foreign diplomat bow deferentially to the Queen, then dismiss the Windsors as a bunch of in-breds.

The EIS's Kay Barnett seemed to have wandered in from the Daily Record's sports pages, with her take on the relative merits of a 10- or 12-team league. Turned out she was opining about the ideal number of education authorities, not the grim future of a financially-strapped mainstay of Scottish life that's regularly vilified in the media. Wait a minute.

Perhaps that confusion was what discombobulated convener Karen Whitefield, who became the first-known person to pronounce education chiefs' body ADES as "Aid-es", as if it were a helpline for embattled directors of education (with slash-and-burn budgets coming to light this week, there's an idea).

It was Judith McClure, the irrepressibly good-natured champion of all things Chinese, who revealed her admiration for a tome called Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun.

Attila's less-than-collegiate style, as one account recorded, involved "so many murders and blood lettings that the dead could not be numbered". Was Dr McClure's admission a sign that, beneath teachers' liberal exterior, is a warrior class who, given the right stimulus, would gladly disembowel all enemies from brainless policy-makers to blithe infinitive-splitters?

A little later, one MSP announced: "I've been listening very closely to the debate that's went on this morning." Beneath polite smiles, the teaching fraternity's inner barbarians sharpened their axes.

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