My epic act of hot air

2nd May 2008 at 01:00
This is my first public appearance as director of learning and what an audience - the assembled staff of the university's department of education
This is my first public appearance as director of learning and what an audience - the assembled staff of the university's department of education. Time wounds all heels, they say, but even a recently arrived probationer from Potsdam could spot the old college staff from the university ones.

My starring role was to be part of a panel on the incredible theme of "Scottish education - quo vadis?" The other members of the panel were a professor from another university, a local captain of industry and the editor of The TESS. It was a CPD event for staff and I could sense their indifference, reluctance and hostility in equal measures. Was I the token female? Was I the token administrator? Or was I just the token?

The questions from the assembled academics were obtuse, vague, ambiguous and boring. These were the better ones. After the panel professor opened on the first one, I sussed out the secret. Meet gobbledegook with gobbledegook.

They spoke a different language from me. They lived in a different world - on a different planet even. Had they ever tried to calm a troublesome parent, assist a struggling P1 reader, mop up the overflow in the boys' toilets or separate a gang of scrapping P7s whose hormones and temperaments were out of control?

They were obsessed with their philosophies, papers and pontificating. They could have name-dropped for Britain. It was refreshing that the good editor shared my opinion, and I noted he was checking the timetables for his train back to Edinburgh. Even the professor seemed to find this particular posse of poseurs worse than the average assembly of detached retinue.

I was miles away, when the editor nudged me, as I heard the words "and Mrs McElroy, what do you think?" I shot to my feet and seized the lectern for fear of falling over. All I could think of was the previous week's showing on BBC2 of Quo Vadis. The images from the MGM film filled my thoughts.

"We must seize the bull by the horns. We must not be afraid to enter the Coliseum of the mind. We need faith and we need hope. Ours is a struggle against all the odds. It may need a cast of thousands, but we need to face the expense and put our cause to the forefront of the struggle for academic freedom and liberty. We need to review our Curriculum for Excellence and consider the works of Kerr, Taylor and Ustinov as alternative influences on future generations of young Scots."

There was spontaneous applause, several nods of approval and I'm sure some stood in acclaim.

The professor turned to me and said: "Well done. You have mastered the art. Say nothing, but sound convincing. You'll make a great director".

The editor was almost doubled up, trying to suppress a giggle. He had seen it all before - and would see it all again.

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