Now's the day, and now's the hour for 5-14

19th January 1996 at 00:00
Little did Robert Burns know it. But when the national bard was busy at his composing, he was equipping generations to come with all they needed for the 5-14 programme.

Or so it seemed last week in Glasgow when Burns enthusiasts came to grips with the poet's relevance for today's students (page five). Music, poetry, art, drama, media studies, community activities, the man from Alloway had something for all of them.

Jim Alison, the retired English specialist in the Inspectorate, was no doubt mindful of the poet's strictures against the "Holy Willies" of his day and suggested that Burns could even be a vehicle for RE. Sex education, alas, did not get a mention from any fans of the notorious philanderer. But "fun" did - perhaps it's the same thing.

Alison kept returning to his fun theme, perhaps because he rarely experienced it in the Inspectorate. He recalled two 12-year-olds who had been learning and singing "Duncan Gray" and had done a painting of the poem. This showed something that appeared to be a quadruped offering a bunch of flowers to something that looked vaguely like a woman.

"It's a goat," the boys explained. But why the flowers, an increasingly puzzled Alison asked. The goat was in love, they answered. What's the point, he enquired. To which the two replied: "It's a wooing goat. Ha, ha, the wooing goat." (Nobody at this point should need reminding of the opening lines, "Duncan Gray cam here to woo, Ha, ha, the wooing o't".) Burns has other challenges for the unwary. He is nothing if not racy. And, as Alison conceded, bowdlerising Burns for the bairns would not be much fun. He himself had not realised until years later that "There was a lad . . ." had a final verse about "the bonny lassies lying aspar" (spread out). His school edition had simply dropped it off the end (as it were).

Burns would have been particularly impressed, in this the 200th anniversary of his death, by the fact that some pupils at least are being exposed to the authenticity of his tongue. John Hodgart, head of English at Garnock Academy in Ayrshire, spoke easily and elegantly in the language of his immediate heath.

"If you cannae un'erstaun' Ayrshire Scots ma apologies," he ventured, "and ye hae ma sympathy."

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