24th October 2008 at 01:00

It is not easy trying to concentrate when Finance Secretary John Swinney is sitting behind you, his shiny black brogue bobbing up and down, virtually grazing your right cheek bone (so prominent it was that one delegate actually shook it). However, inspired by former BBC correspondent Kate Adie, The TESS determined to get the story, danger be damned.

Saturday morning at the SNP annual conference in Perth was all about education. Chartered teachers were first up, with conference declaring its love for the programme.

Echoing Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary, Bob Doris MSP saw chartered teachers championing the new curriculum. However, he warned they must not just benefit their schools but contribute to the "education system".

Thus far, the scheme had not been a huge success, felt East Lothian councillor Peter MacKenzie. But it could re-establish teachers as intellectuals in their communities, he argued, just like Balfour's dad in Kidnapped.

Duncan Ross, national secretary, said the qualification allowed teachers to "recharge their batteries" after "hard years at the chalk face". But given that the "hard years" continued throughout the programme, we wondered exactly what Mr Ross's idea of relaxation was.

The teachers' agreement was never very far away, and the conference called on the Scottish Government to sort out the "many variations" in implementing non-class contact time across the country. Delegates heard from two primary teachers that their bond with pupils was at risk, and from a secondary teacher who argued non-contact time had to be protected in "sensible time spans". Very little preparation can be done in 10 minutes, she pointed out.

Finally, class sizes came to the fore, specifically Glasgow's refusal to reduce them. Anne McLaughlin, member of SNP national council, who moved the resolution, which was passed by acclaim, was first to stick the boot in (thankfully Mr Swinney had resisted the urge to do the same). If Glasgow saw the benefit of smaller classes in deprived areas, why not across the board, she argued. "We should not be classing children as middle or working class when it comes to education," she said. Now that would be a breakthrough.

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