A wee piece shortbread and a wish

scottish wishOnce upon a time when fairy tales haven’t been fixed in form by Disney, there was a First Minister of Scotland. He was very excited because soon all the people of Scotland would decide whether to become independent or remain in a union with the people of England, and Wales, and Northern Ireland.  He had spent a lot of time explaining his idea and helping the people of Scotland understand what an independent Scotland would be like. “Don’t worry, Scottish citizens will still be able to watch East Enders, Dr Who and Strictly Come Dancing”, he said, “We’ll have our own passports and lots of money and no nuclear weapons”, he added.

One day he came home to discover that his wife had been to a car boot sale –“I took that set of strange foreign golf clubs you got the other day from those American people and the old umbrella stand and sold them at the East Fortune car boot sale, well it was more of a swap actually, this wee old biddy gave me a nice set of short-bread moulds and this vintage, wood shaft driver, isn’t that nice?”  The poor first minster was quite taken aback, “You swapped my Titleist913D 16 adjustable driver for this”, he spluttered…. “Well, it looks more authentic doesn’t it, more St Andrews and less Orlando?” smiled his wife, who then headed off to make a bit of shortbread with the new moulds.

The First Minister wandered into the back garden, disconsolate at his loss. He swished the club at an imaginary ball and to his amazement, a great puff of magic tartan smoke trailed in the air and infront of him, fully spruced in plus fours and yellow socks, stood an ancient wee man. “This better be good, laddie”, said the ancient wee man, “I was tee-ing up the ultimate shot, the wind was behind me, the curlews were overhead and… now I’m here. You’ll maybe not know the drill – it’s a post modern derivative of an ancient Arab story usually involving a lamp and three wishes – that bit’s more or less the same, you get three wishes, but I make no guarantee of granting them, or even of coming back between wishes, so what’s your heart’s desire my man?”

“I wish,” said the First Minister, shutting his eyes to really concentrate, “I wish all Scottish people come….(he hesitated)… to understand what it would be like to have an independent Scotland”. “Done”, said the golfing wizard, and he vanished. At that moment the phone rang, it was the First Minster’s special helping assistant person who was happy to report that the call for a census was going out on all social media, billboards, broadcasts and newspapers. “What are you talking about?” wondered the First Minister who was still standing in the garden with his club.

The special helping assistant person explained, that just as the First Minister had wished, a call had gone out to all the Scottish people asking them to come to Scotland. “What?” quavered the First Minister, “I just meant those people living in Scotland”.

Over the next few days the country went crazy. Many people weren’t sure if they were Scottish – did it count if your parents had both been born in Scotland, but you hadn’t? Did it count if just one of your parents had been born in Scotland? If you were born in Scotland were you automatically Scottish – even if your parents weren’t at all.  What about if you had never lived in Scotland, and nor had your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents but you all still spoke Gaelic and, deep in the core of your being you knew that you were Scottish because your family had emigrated when they were cleared off the land? There are over 4.8 million people in the USA who reckoned they were of Scottish origin in the 2000 census, only slightly more than in Canada – and once you start counting the Scots in the southern hemisphere – including Argentina, as well as places closer to hand such as Ireland, well the numbers were racing upwards – 12 million? No one really seemed quite sure. There wasn’t even a handy collective noun to describe everyone: were they Scottish, Gaels, Scotch, clans, lowlanders or highlanders?

What was great, however big the upheaval, reckoned the First Minister, was the amount of money they were spending to come back. Every but’n’ben, every self-catering castle and steading, every hotel room and camp site was being booked up.

In interview after interview the First Minister found himself talking about the once in a generation opportunity the vote on Scottish independence would be. He was so pleased to see so many famous and fabulous Scots due to come back: he imagined himself being photographed with Sean Connery, Chris Hoye, Alex Fergusson, Emelie Sande, Ms Dynamite, J.K. Rowling…. ah, he wondered was she Scottish people or people of Scotland? Because as the numbers of returning Scots grew a problem was becoming apparent. The “home-comers” felt, beyond any doubt that they were Scottish. It was a feeling, a heart-beat, a bone-knowledge within. It was part of their DNA where-ever they had been born. But however many of them there were, unless they were on the electoral role in Scotland they had no voice at all. On the other hand the people that lived in Scotland, they had a vote and would decide. And those resident Scots, 83% whom had been born in Scotland, felt the same.

During many of the interviews the First Minister found himself explaining it was nothing to do with patriotism – it was politics; politics pushing the need for change. His words seemed to fall on deaf ears. The wild, the adventurous, the romantic, the musical, the passionate Scots of the diaspora continued to pour in to be there for Scotland. And they were vocal in their passions for all the things that mattered to them: the scenery, the skies, the water, the drink, the over-weight and the poor diet, the challenging education system, the likelihood of being able to afford free childcare, the economic equation of money expected to come in to the Holyrood Exchequer and the money planning to be spent. It was, frankly, over-whelming.

Worse were the growing complaints from around the globe. The visitors to Scotland hadn’t come out of a vacuum after all – they were also part of companies, organisations and countries in other places. They reckoned there were 800,000 Scots living and working in the rest of the British Isles – and when they went they were missed. The BBC had problems juggling their broadcast schedules with so many away – the crew on Today could cover for James Naughtie, but the PM evening program struggled without Eddie Mair. Haggis sales fell in England as it turned out only Scots people really liked eating the chieftain o’ the puddin’ race. Armed forces saw regiments preparing to return to Scotland, even though, as they muttered, they mightn’t be entitled to a vote either.

In all the hullabaloo the First Minister took some time out to have a wee piece shortbread and then, old golf club in hand, headed back to the garden. He swung the club, more in hope than expectation, but with a grey plume of smoke, the ancient wee man appeared. He looked pretty annoyed, again, and a little sorrowful. “What now then?” he enquired. “This is not going well,” said the First Minister, “the Scottish people have come here – they’re fllippin’ everywhere – but they don’t really understand what I want for the people of Scotland, and they’re asking lots of difficult questions, and they’re all part of something bigger too and it’s like they’re woven through the patterns of everywhere else…. you’ll be hoping I say like Scotland and the United Kingdom, but I’m not going to – I really believe in Scotland’s independence, but I wish it was back to the way it had been”.  “Pretty lame wish, First Minister”, sneered the wee man, “but it’s up to you. And, while I’m here anyway, what might your final wish be?” “Oh”, sighed the First Minister, “I wish for a super-perfect round of golf… just like I would have after I’d finished all that practising on my desert island…” his voice trailed off as he imagined the fine days of yore. “Done” said the wee man.

Later that day the wee man was sitting in the bar at the Old Course Hotel nursing a dram. He’d been sharing the story with the other wee golf men.

“So did you give the First Minister his wishes?” they asked.

“Oh yes indeed, as you know we golf-genies are obliged to play by the ancient rules.”

“But how could you reward him with perfect golf at such a time?”

And the genie, standing proud in his “Nemo me impure lacessit”* t-shirt, replied “Who’s he gonna tell?”Scotland, golf edit2



*The Scottish national motto: No one provokes me with impunity

‘Tis the season for school Christmas shows

Viv in nativity play 001“There isn’t an OFSTED check box for this”, remarked the chair of governors as we queued to watch the Year 3 and 4 extravaganza “Santa’s on Strike”.  All round the country Christmas shoes are being presented to proud parents, grandparents, siblings and friends.  Of course some top notes are missed; scenery falls to pieces; lines are fluffed; and prima donnas run sobbing to the girls/boys lavatories. None of this matters. What does matter is the value of moment and the real skills children learn through the process.

In the queue people were quick to list those important experiences because they remembered them from their time at school too. Feeling butterflies in your tummy before you go on. What it is like to be in a team and practising together for hours. Having bright lights shine on you, and discovering that the kid you thought was as thick as mince has the voice of an angel. Learning how creative your own parents can be when required to create a costume on a budget with a tea towel, coat hanger for wings and duck tape to make elf shoes. There are those bitter/sweet moments too – like when you aren’t picked at the audition.  We all know these are lessons we have to learn at some stage, there are no short cuts and you can’t just read about it in a book or on a learning resources page on the web.

Given the range of alternative Christmas treatments I’m not entirely sure school children will all have that firm a grasp on the Christmas story per se, but given the host of other lessons learn maybe that doesn’t matter.

So, let’s give a big cheer for all the people that make the Christmas shows happen and for what parents, teachers and school children love about Christmas shows and share the knowledge that not everything that’s brilliant about school is measured by OFSTED.


The picture, OK, I did get the part of Mary in the Mission to Seamen in Kobe Nativity Play – fighting off keen competition.  A proud moment, and not one I usually get to share.

Reading and the New Curriculum

Learning to readThroughout the country primary schools are getting ready for Christmas, that time of year when ingenuity is tested to extremes – just how many ways can one make elf shoes?; teachers coax pure, high notes from shiny, snotty children and success is measured by the number of parents and grandparents reaching for their hankies.

Rumbling behind the scenes, however, it is also the season for head teacher management reviews and the time of year the governing bodies receive performance data for the pupils. I don’t suppose the schools I know are exceptional in pouring over the details: 2% points up or down on the previous year is analysed, challenged and explained. Each cohort is considered from the point of view of season of birth, gender, free school meals and whether the child speaks English as their first language at home.

In the curriculum committee we ask about the impact of various initiatives that have been used over the year – there are fun things like trips to museums or the theatre, and there are those hard slog moments as children get to grips with phonics. Over-arching all our discussions, however, are two topics which, judging by press and social media, are top topics nationally.

The new national curriculum is due to impact from 2014 – and while it has had a fairly lukewarm reception from most teachers (52% of heads reckoned it would not be more stimulating in a survey carried out by The Key – a support service for school leaders) the amount of time, thought and effort that goes into being prepared for it is considerable.

The consultation paper for the new curriculum touches on the second key topic: It asks “(Q10) To what extent will the new National Curriculum make clear to parents what their children should be learning at each stage of their education?” It seems to me that the question should be re-phrased as “To what extent will the new National Curriculum make clear to parents that their children’s learning will be improved the more support and input they make to the process, particularly for reading?”

All over the world, including some of the countries seen as beacons in terms of teaching and learning, there is discussion on how best to involve parents in their children’s education. At a primary level a parent or carer that helps a child learn to read by listening to them, and by reading to them, can have a more positive impact on that child’s future learning and confidence than any number of revised curriculum initiatives. Reading is one of the corner stones for all future learning.  I appreciate this is a naïve Christmas wish, but I wish that as much time, thought and effort as is being put to support the new curriculum could be put to supporting families to read. More parents/carer reading with their children would surely bring a real tear of gladness to many a headteacher’s eye and the % point change would as surely trend in an upward direction.