Wow. Does Muffin have the X factor?

16th May 2008 at 01:00

Jodie McLatchie ("Muffin" to my regular readers, because of the enlarged midriff that spills over her trouser waistband) has asked me to countersign a certificate explaining her absence from the recent Standard grade English examination, which she missed because she was attending an audition for some appallingly irresponsible television talent show.

"Jodie," I said sternly, "it was explained very clearly to you what would be the consequences of attending an audition for this Wow Factor, and there's no way ... ".

"But, surr!" she strained beseechingly, "it's the X Facturr, an' ma mithir said it wid be OK, an' she wis shoor youse'd be OK wi' it wance ah wis famous!"

"But Jodie, you're not going to be famous," I explained patiently. "And it looks like you won't be getting an award for your Standard grade either."

She shrugged. "Well, ma maw says there wis nae point in turnin' up anyway, 'cos all the Standard grades ur getting choapped, surr - she wisny even shoor they wir happenin' this year from whit she read in the papers ... ".

I explained as calmly as I could that the news of Standard grade's death had been greatly exaggerated, and that Mrs McLatchie's interpretation of newspaper reports had been somewhat off the mark.

"Indeed, S Grade English should still be around next year, Jodie," I concluded the interview, "when you can try sitting it in fifth year instead!"


Interviews took place for our new headteacher today, but - as of late this afternoon - we still await the result. Everyone is hoping that our acting head, Kevin Muir, gets the job, but he has the insurmountable disadvantage of being male (not a good starting point if the last five such appointments in our authority are anything to go by), as well as a reputation for having the welfare of Greenfield Academy's students and staff closest to his heart, rather than any interest in career-enhancing exercises such as continuing professional development. So he probably won't get far. But we shall see.


Kevin didn't get the job. It went, as predicted, to a female candidate, who should be with us by the end of term.

"It was my own fault, really," he conceded to a small group of well-wishers in the staffroom at morning break. "They asked me what I thought of A Curriculum for Excellence quite early on, and I made what I thought was the rather witty observation that, so far, 'it seems to have been all about foreplay rather than consummation'.

"And when I saw one of the panel smiling broadly, I thought I was on a winner, so I continued the sexual allusions off the top of my head with what turned out to be rather disastrous consequences ... ".

We remained silent, wondering precisely what he had said, and picturing Kevin at the centre of a Bateman cartoon - "The Man Who Compared ACfE to A Sex Act". It got worse, as he related his answer to questions about the plans to review our examination system.

"Well, it was in for a penny by that time," he shrugged his shoulders, "so I told them that here at Greenfield we thought we'd solved the problem of the kids treading water in first and second year by starting them on Standard grades in S2, so they had something worthwhile to do - until HMIE told us it wasn't a good idea, which had our previous head retreating faster than an Italian tank on the battlefield.

"But still," he continued, "I made the point that we'd seen huge increases in motivation when we'd done it, because we always see more motivation when a kid starts an exam course that's going to be externally assessed at the end. And if they think the answer to our woes is to take half the kids out of the system, so they only sit two proper exams in reading and arithmetic in fourth year, and leave the other half with only one chance of getting any kind of proper, subject-based, leaving certificates, then we were coming round in yet another bloody educational circle that would see us implementing a curriculum more closely suited to the early 1960s than anything fit for the 21st century.

"Except I didn't say 'bloody'," he smiled ruefully. "And then I told them that the only enthusiasm I could muster for the proposals was that if they took as long to get going as Standard grade did, then there was a decent chance I'd be retired by the time they came in, in which case I'd be jolly glad to be out of the game by then."

In retrospect, I think we could understand the panel's decision.


I watched my woeful assortment of Higher English candidates enter the school hall this morning - and clung to the hope that this year might see the last of an even more woeful examination, as the SQA examines its options for this "gold standard" of exams.

For here is a review that I - and Kevin Muir - can fully support, as 12 years of education in our mother tongue is condensed into two interpretation passages and two essays in three hours, with no chance to demonstrate any of the writing skills that will be required in real-life situations.

It is my earnest prayer that next year's candidates will be able to demonstrate a more fulsome range of talents. Not that my own candidates are likely to have many talents to demonstrate, of course. But it's the principle that counts.


Jodie McLatchie has had a recall from her X Factor auditions. The news broke at lunchtime today, and witnessed her being carried aloft through the lunch hall by a crowd of eager classmates.

I have never seen her so happy and, for a moment, I actually wondered whether this frequently-bullied child might derive more benefit from such unaccustomed adulation than from getting her S grade English.

And who knows what could happen if she actually went all the way? After all, it wouldn't be the first time that an overweight Scottish girl has won a nationally televised talent contest.

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