Racketeers' roll-call

8th November 1996 at 00:00
Duncan Graham's memoirs, The Education Racket, continue to provide rich pickings from his time in the education directorates of Renfrewshire and Strathclyde.

The former senior depute in Strathclyde has seen it all, from teaching pop singer Lulu to advising Margaret Thatcher as chairman and chief executive of the National Curriculum Council. Lulu gets off lightly.

A neighbouring teacher at Glasgow's Whitehill Secondary was John Mackay, a newly qualified maths teacher. "At that time so lax seemed his disciplinary control of even first-year pupils that in order to get sufficient peace to cope with my own lot, every 10 minutes or so I had to quell his as well. I was relieved when he left for a job in Oban High School."

John Mackay will no doubt recognise himself as Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, the Government's minister of state for social security. In a previous existence he was the Scottish education minister who "took to pontificating on teaching and discipline".

Graham has clearly perfected a dismissive tone over the years, a technique he seems to have learned at the feet of the "formidable" Ethel Rennie when he spent three seminal years at the former Craigie College of Education while she was principal. "Her powers of invective and scorn and her razor-sharp wit made her a formidable exponent of the put-down," he recalls.

Graham was clearly an excellent pupil. "He had, I think, been educated by the Jesuits," he writes of an "austere Catholic" former colleague. In another waspish assessment he writes: "Binnie and Ross were hardly world-class administrators and Halliday, while hugely competent, like all of us had his weaknesses."

His book has surprisingly little to say about Eddie Miller, Strathclyde's first director of education, except that he was "a first-class administrator who seemed overtly surprised to be there". Miller was not a leader in the mould of previous directors, Graham suggests. "He was tested to near destruction by the forces which came to bear on him. No wonder he took to returning to his room to remain incommunicado for a couple of hours each lunch time."

All this meant that praise from Graham is praise indeed. Thus former union leader and current Clackmannan director Keir Bloomer was "a brilliant, hard-headed negotiator" who provided Graham with "the sharpest intellectual jousts I have ever experienced". Tom McCool, Graham's successor in Renfrewshire and now Scotvec's chief executive, was "a brilliant education administrator".

Other judgments may have to be revised in the light of recent disputes: Archbishop (now Cardinal) Thomas Winning is classed as "able and diplomatic".

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