Sturm und Drang as Fiona and Carole clash

27th November 2009 at 00:00
Annual conference of School Leaders Scotland

The education secretary, Fiona Hyslop, has accused headteachers and others "within and outwith the profession" of spreading "misconceptions", "over-simplifications" and "scaremongering".

The Scottish Government was being forced to deal with "persistent misconceptions" about the new curriculum and assessment regime, she said, in an angry address to the School Leaders Scotland conference last week. Ms Hyslop criticised the body for generating "much more heat than light", in a reference to outgoing president Carole Ford's speech the day before, in which she attacked virtually every aspect of the new assessment plans.

Ms Hyslop hit back, saying the views of the profession and SLS had been taken into account "at every stage", and having no external exam at National 4 had been on SLS's advice.

Ms Ford said she feared the reforms would adopt a blanket approach to unit assessments and coursework across all subjects. But Ms Hyslop reassured heads that new assessments would recognise the difference between subjects.

Even The TESS was charged by Ms Hyslop with spreading misconceptions. The Government, she insisted, did not make policy "based on the front page of The TESS", referring to an article about Renfrewshire Council's attempts to measure the four capacities in pupils (October 30). "There will be no assessment of the four capacities for you to worry about," she said.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority has stated on a number of occasions that it is looking for ways to assess the capacities and for schools to pilot such assessments.

A Scottish Government spokesman was forced to clarify that capacities would be assessed - but not how Renfrewshire Council envisaged it in the TESS report.

Ms Ford welcomed Ms Hyslop's assurance that the differences between subjects would be recognised in assessment - this was not what heads had been told. She was also pleased Ms Hyslop had promised the profession would be involved in developing the new qualifications. As a member of the review group for literacy and numeracy, this had not been her experience, she said.

Grating the gears

Never wave a red rag at a bull, show a wild animal you're afraid or eat cheese before bed.

An equally prudent rule to live by, if you're Education Secretary, is never declare to a room full of heidies, having just mentioned job sizing, that you noted an extraordinarily big number of BMWs in the car park.

It was a gaffe worthy of a gong - "And the award for Fastest Ever Alienation of an Audience goes to . Fiona Hyslop!"

It was only 11am and already day two of the School Leaders Scotland conference had been chock-full of cringe-inducing moments.

It began with the reports in the national press of outgoing president Carole Ford's speech, a scathing attack on the Government's assessment plans. Yet it was Ms Ford who had to introduce Ms Hyslop ahead of her address and whom Ms Hyslop, through gritted teeth, had to thank.

Ms Hyslop, however, soon got on to the more palatable business of revenge. Ms Ford's speech had "generated much more heat than light", she said, accusing SLS of spreading misconceptions, of over-simplifications and scaremongering.

All the time, Ms Ford sat on the stage just a few paces away and, when it was all over, had to thank her in return.

Awkwardness over? Alas not, for then, following a Qamp;A session, came the BMW blunder.

For the rest of the conference, heidies seethed about it, talked about it and joked about it.

"Why do cabinet secretaries drive BMWs, not Mercedes-Benzes?" one asked. "They can spell BMW," was the reply.

Each new speaker confessed to the make and model of their car, like alcoholics attending AA meetings. "My name is Carole Ford and I drive a BMW," joked the outgoing president.

Ms Hyslop fled after her speech, but wouldn't it have been better to defuse the situation by joining in the joke? "My name is Fiona Hyslop," she could have said, "and a chauffeur drives my car."


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