So who inspects the politicians?

5th February 2010 at 00:00

There has been a lot of talk lately by politicians about how school inspections must change. I'm not sure where all this sudden sympathy for teachers comes from. Maybe, with Fiona Hyslop's sudden departure and Mike Russell's overdue arrival, there's a belief things might change in education for the better and it would be good to be ahead of the curve?

After my eight years in the daughter of all parliaments, I wouldn't let MSPs pick my lottery numbers, never mind anticipate the educational landscape for the next year. It got me thinking: how would they manage as teachers or cope with an inspection?

What would they teach? They mangle the English language and have no head for sums? I don't think most would get past their probation, never mind be accepted by the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

Of course, teachers can be politicians too. Former MP and MSP Dennis Canavan was a teacher and didn't take stick from anyone, be it in the classroom or the chamber.

I always thought it funny when I met people who claimed to have been at Holyrood RC High in Edinburgh, who would tell me Dennis was quite liberal in dispensing the belt - only for him to end up at the infants' Holyrood, where some of his discipline would have been most welcome.

Who would dispense such retribution there? "Hands out, Salmond!" or "Stand in the corridor, Jackie Baillie!" and certainly, "McAveety, stop eating that pie and report to the head now - you're late for questions!"

But who would be a head, with such responsibility and legal risk? The presiding officer, I suppose. Suddenly a lot more people would want that job. Corporal punishment would give new meaning to the term "party whips" - no doubt a number of MSPs would be queuing up for that job. Shame it was abolished.

There are other ex-teachers at Holyrood. Jack McConnell was a maths teacher, but being a Stirling councillor as well allowed him to skive a lot. In debates, opponents used to imply that he couldn't count, but he would then show off by talking about the difference between a median and an average until we were bored into submission. Jack's still in the counting house, although no longer king. Some pine for his restoration, but mostly cheeky SNP members.

Andrew Welsh, convener of the finance committee, was once a teacher. He first became an MP in 1974, when cars had names that defined one's machismo, like Triumph Stag or Vauxhall Magnum. I was in fourth year then, still aspiring to shave but using Hai Karate nevertheless.

A history and modern studies teacher who speaks fluent French and Chinese, Andrew's talents are wasted in Holyrood. No doubt there will be a role for him as first Scottish ambassador to Vietnam, or even Beijing if independence ever arrives.

Are modern studies teachers repressed politicians, like DJs are often failed singers?

Among the new crop of MSPs, the most obvious teacher, Elizabeth Smith, taught modern studies at George Watson's College in Edinburgh and is a big noise in ladies' cricket. The Tory schools spokesman prefers to make her own history, though: having helped put Hyslop to the sword, she has her sights on the new man at the crease. But Russell is more experienced, can play with a straight bat and reveal a lyrical flourish, leaving his shadows looking witless at silly mid-off and silly mid-on.

Despite such performances, the question remains: who inspects the politicians? They don't have an inspector at the back of the chamber writing up a report. Maybe they should have. Any volunteers? Life's unfair, unless you're a politician.

Brian Monteith was a politician once but is still learning.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today