Social Affairs

Some Thoughts on Scotland’s Implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence

Earlier this year when writing for the Guardian about the ongoing political row around Scotland’s performance in the international comparison table known as PISA, I visited Currie High School on the outskirts of Edinburgh and spoke to a group of young people who were gathered in the lab to discuss their experience of science at school with me. After the chat, where the students were generally enthusiastic and complimentary about their science lessons, I asked if anyone would consider becoming a High School Science teacher. Silence. Why not? “I just can’t stand children, Miss” answered one bright spark. After a pause, another offered the reason that it would be just “too much hard work” – and there was a chorus of agreement with this sentiment.(some students from Currie)

Children tell the Scottish Cabinet what they want.

Children’s Parliament Imagineers show off their mural.

On a recent afternoon, as a weak Spring sun shone over Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square picking out crocuses in the square’s central garden, the door of  Bute House  – official residence of Scotland’s First Minister – opened and a group emerged from a lengthy consultation with the Scottish Cabinet. They huddled together on the steps, reporting to an accompanying cameraman about the event. But as they did so they began to hop around and skip up and down the steps in a manner most unusual for the dignitaries who generally emerge from discussing affairs of state there.

These delegates were all primary school children –  a small group from the Children’s Parliament (CP) which had come to talk to Nicola Sturgeon and Education Minister John Swinney, as well as other members of the Cabinet and Scottish Government officials about what is important to children in Scotland today.

Is the Curriculum for Excellence Dumbing Down Scottish Education?

What do we mean by a good education? It’s not the same as being intelligent of course. An educated young person has skills they can take with them into the world. But should these include reasonable fluency in a modern language, an understanding of the sciences, maths, some knowledge of literature and history? Or, in this age of easy fact-finding on the internet does an educated person mean: a successful learner, a confident individual, a responsible citizen and an effective contributor, as Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence has it? The Scottish government is wrestling with the implementation of this curriculum, which was intended to build on the concept of the “democratic intellect”, a generalist approach favouring interdisciplinary study. But how is it working in practice?

A Children’s Food Fight and the Edinburgh Fringe

Children and food. What a lot is in those three little words. A recent argument on Mumsnet and Women’s Hour ( Tuesday August 11) reminded me of the anxiety I used to sometimes feel as a parent about what, how, when and why my children were eating.

The row was about an assertion that mums today are ‘addicted” to feeding their children constant snacks,  On the show food writers Annabel Karmel and Joanna Blythman slugged it out, with Blythman arguing for three square meals eaten round a table and water in between; while Karmel voiced sympathy for struggling parents trying to get their children nutritiously fed and watered each day without too much stress. 

Mona Siddiqui on love, sex and death.

Sexual desire, the search for happiness, dealing with death and living as a member of a minority are just some of the topics Muslim theologian Mona Siddiqui discusses in her new book – part handbook to life, part autobiography: “My Way”, which she will discuss at Glasgow’s “Aye Write” festival this April.

Eclipse: A Magical Moment Obscured by Bureaucracy

Eclipse: A Magical Moment Obscured by Bureaucracy

Photo by Rob Bruce. The view of the eclipse from Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat was magical. Many observers were ill-prepared without anything much to view it with but in the event, a partial veil of scudding clouds made it possible to see the crescent sun at its moment of occlusion. The sunshine dimmed to a twilight, the land was shadowed and chilly. The birds fell silent but watchers on the hillside let out a few ragged whoops. As I watched, I felt so sorry for the children at my son’s High School that I could have wept. The school had ordered some eclipse glasses; there was a waiting list and those who did not have them were to be refused permission to go into the playground due to fears they would stare too long at the sun and damage their eyes.

Albie Sachs – lecture transcript

This a slightly abridged text of the lecture given by the ANC veteran and South African constitutional court judge Albie Sachs at the National Gallery of Scotland on June 25 2009 in Edinburgh, transcribed from my shorthand note.

Yes or No to politics in the classroom

From the Guardian.
Scottish referendum: is it yes or no to politics in class?
Some Scottish schools have not debated the issues over independence. Have pupils who will be voting missed out?l

Pupils at Boroughmuir high school in Edinburgh show their differing voting intentions for the referendum. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

Sean Warrington, 17, will be putting his cross in the yes box when he casts his vote in Scotland‘s referendum on 18 September, a different choice from his parents. But Sean feels he has been able to reach his own decision through studying the options at Boroughmuir high school in Edinburgh’s Morningside. “The stuff we have done in class has presented both sides of the argument. I just thought that yes had a better case. My parents are no voters and it’s difficult for them to talk about both sides of it.”

Scottish Universities and the referendum

A look at the debate on Scottish independence in the University sector in Scotland. Published in the Education Guardian on March 25, 2014. Glasgow University: many of the reservations about independence are based on fears over research funding Photograph: Alamy

Does Edinburgh need to sacrifice green belt?

From the Evening News, Dec 4 2013. Does Edinburgh really need to sacrifice hundreds of acres of green belt to the west of the city for A development to fill a housing shortage as Murray Estates owned by former Rangers chairman Sir David Murray argues?

Farm labourer who created garden centre

Published in the Herald, Tuesday 8 October 2013. Businessman and horticulturist;Born: January 28, 1937; Died: August 27, 2013. Eric Gallagher, who has died aged 76, was a former farm labourer who left school at the age of 12 and through years of dedication and hard work, built up a multi-million pound horticulture business. With his family, he ran Cardwell Garden Centre at Lunderston Bay on the outskirts of Gourock and was a passionate gardener at home and at work. The son of Irish immigrants who came to Scotland in the 1930s, Mr Gallagher believed in growing as much of his stock as possible locally and was convinced of the transforming power of gardening; it was, he said, a great social leveller.

Francophile architect and teacher

Published in the Herald, Tuesday 24 September 2013. Born June 24, 1935. Died September 15, 2013. A proud Scot and a Francophile, Professor Charles MacCallum was a dedicated teacher and an academic as well as a practising architect with an interest in showcasing design features in the buildings he helped to create.

Scots students get their Higher results

Scots students get their Higher results

Published in the Education Guardian, August 6 2013

Their exam system may differ from the one in England, but Scottish students face the same anxious wait for their results. Jackie Kemp takes a closer look at Highers and university entrance north of the border
The new Scottish national curriculum will emphasis research and thinking skills

Today, across Scotland, young people will be whooping or groaning as the results of their endof – school exams, the Highers and Advanced Highers, are revealed. “The people who do really well will post them on Facebook,” says student Ellie Small, “and some of those who do really badly might post them for comedy value, but I don’t think I will be posting mine. I’m really nervous. The closer it gets, the more I feel I won’t have got what I need.”

Propaganda war: who will win Scottish teenage hearts and minds?

Jackie Kemp -The Guardian, Monday 20 May 2013 19.30 BST

Pupils at Glasgow’s Douglas Academy debate Scotland’s independence ahead of next year’s vote. Photograph: Martin Hunter
Rosie Duthie and Euan MacIntosh, both 15, have made up their minds on how they plan to vote in next year’s referendum on Scottish independence. For Euan the answer is a clear “yes” because he believes it will be his best guarantee of a free university education. Rosie is a “no”. She says: “We should be arguing that what we think is better for the future of young people in Scotland is better for England too and for the European Union.”

“Worrying” dip in language learning in Scots schools

Published in The Scotsman newspaper on 29/04/2013 00:00

FOREIGN language learning in Scotland’s schools has dipped to “worrying” new levels, education experts warned last night. The warning that the decline will have an negative impact on Scotland’s standing in the world came after it emerged that only about one in ten S5 pupils is taking foreign language courses.

 An analysis of education statistics by The Scotsman has found the number of Higher course entrants for modern languages has fallen by nearly a quarter over the past 20 years, from 10,179 to just under 7,887 in 2011.

Mandarin blossoms among Scots language pupils

It’s difficult, unfamiliar, and far from a traditional educational choice. So why are more Scottish pupils bucking the UK trend and venturing out of their comfort zone to study Mandarin? Jackie Kemp speaks to some of the people involved in the pursuit of oriental excellence. From The Scotsman April 29 2013

A group of girls in brightly coloured silk costumes are conversing animatedly in Mandarin – performing a short play for visitors to their school, Leith Academy, Edinburgh. The city comprehensive’s staff are clearly proud of this high-achieving group of six girls, all the children of immigrants from Africa, Asia and diverse parts of Europe, who earlier this year beat stiff competition to make it to the finals of the British Council’s Chinese-speaking competition, for the second time in a row.

Father ‘Ted’ McSherry

Father ‘Ted’ McSherry

Published in The Scotsman  Tuesday 22 January 2013 

Born: 29 September, 1934, in Liverpool. Died: 26 December, 2012, in Edinburgh, aged 78

Father Edward McSherry – known to everyone as “Father Ted” – was parish priest of St Mary’s Star of the Sea in Leith, Edinburgh. At the time of his death he was working and leading a full life, having recently returned from a visit to South America.

At his funeral, the church was packed with mourners, many of whom had travelled for long distances to mark the passing of this popular priest and to give thanks for what was described as a “simple life – and in the end he died as he lived – very simply”