An inspector calls

Jackie Kemp gives a low mark to the people who adjudicate on schools. From the Scottish Review (www.scottishreview.net) http:/www.scottishreview.net October 5 2010.

There is a Chinese proverb which says: ‘Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself’. Education therefore is about the pursuit of knowledge rather than, as George Bernard Shaw put it, ‘knowledge in pursuit of children’. In recent times Scottish education has seemed more like the latter than the former with a surfeit of top-down state-led box-ticking initiatives aimed at having all children achieve this level or that level by certain ages.

England wasn’t built on babysitting bans

28 September 2009, guardian.co.uk

What would Orwell make of a nation in which mothers are investigated for looking after each other’s children?

When did it happen? When did the English, described by George Orwell in his famous essays, as a byword for tolerance, eternally suspicious of “power worship” and the overweening authoritarian state, turn into people who report their neighbours to the authorities for babysitting each other’s children without permission?

The nanny state turns parents into kids

The Guardian – 19 September 2009.

Some people have been so infantilised by our authoritarian state that they can no longer perform basic parenting tasks.

“We only refuse what we notice.” This slogan coined by an absent-minded 12-year-old of my acquaintance, in reference to people stealing his chips, seems an apt one to represent the gradual filching of our freedoms by the state. Absorbed in our own thoughts, when we glance back at our plates we may get a shock at how much has been taken.

Tartan and home truths

Oh, the swing of the kilt and the skirl of the bagpipes! The tens of thousands who gather annually to try their strength at tossing Scottish cabers around … in Leipzig.

A mania for “the heedrum-hodrum Celtic twilight”, which is afflicting parts of northern Europe, is one of the topics to be researched at a new centre for the study of the Scottish diaspora at Edinburgh University.

But since its launch at the end of last month, the new centre, funded by a £1m donation from a Scottish financier, has been caught up in controversy. Its founder, perhaps Scotland’s foremost historian, Professor Tom Devine, announced in the opening lecture that he intended to challenge the “Burns supper” school of Scottish history. As a result, he has been subject to attacks by nationalists accusing him of “unionist revisionism”.

‘McSex’ era is cheap but not cheerful

We live in the age of ”McSex” – fast, easy, and cheap. Young women need to be helped to ”say no to soul-less sex”. ”They are having a lot of sex with a lot of different men without realising the emotional whack of that. They are feeling it is something they absolutely have to do. We have spoken to hundreds of young women and they hated what they were doing.” The words of some Bible-bashing right-winger?

No – Cosmopolitan, the free-thinking magazine that discovered the G spot. Editor Lorraine Candy told a debate to mark 100 years of women’s suffrage on Radio Four yesterday that it was time to ”pull back” on sexual liberation because young women were being damaged by it.

No more magic in Scotland

“I went to the north pole this morning. We created a whole world using our imagination cream. We always need that for maths lessons. Everyone was on a sled. We calculated how much we all weighed and how many huskies it would take to pull us and how long it would take us to get there. It was fun.”

Rubbing herself with imagination cream may be all in a day’s work for theatre professional Fiona Rennie, but it is a new departure for the maths department of Buchie high school in Moray. The project, which is designed to “sprinkle a little magic” over what can be a dry subject, is a product of Scotland’s cultural coordinators, an invention of the previous Labour administration that went along with a theory of the “cultural entitlement” of all citizens. Both, however, are now being binned by the current SNP Scottish government.

Policing the peace

“The terrorist and the policeman both come from the same basket,” wrote the novelist Joseph Conrad in The Secret Agent in 1907. A century later, the insight retains its resonance as British police are being asked to train local forces to fight terrorism in far-flung locations. Police officers seconded from UK forces are being dispatched to help their counterparts in trouble spots in the Middle East, the former Yugoslavia, East Timor and Africa.

Now officers on international secondment are being offered an online course in peace studies to help strengthen their contribution. The postgrad certificate – in international policing: peace support operations – is being offered for the first time this year by Stirling University in collaboration with the Scottish Police College and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It draws on ideas from education and politics.

‘Let’s make the young lead the way’

Do we need obedient children? No. What we need in the 21st century is creative, questioning, challenging children who can think for themselves. We no longer need to prepare them for a

life of kowtowing to the old bowler hat, the gaffer, the policeman, the dominie, the sergeant-major. That world is gone for ever. Belief in unquestioning obedience began to subside as the world assessed the aftermath of the Somme and the Holocaust, and it will never come back.

We need to produce young people who are immensely flexible, self-sufficient, full of cheek and confidence. We need to leave behind the put-down and the threat in the same way that we have put away the tawse and the cane. We need to learn to cope with to as well as fro, to listen as well as to teach, to cherish the bright spark and not to seek to put it out.

America’s threadbare safety net

Leaving a train station in a suburb of Boston in a white-out one evening recently, I trudged my way through falling snow to the main street. I hailed a passing cab – but did a double take on opening the door.

In the back seat there was a three-year-old girl in a car seat watching TV. Her grandmother was in the driver’s seat, a tiny woman whose head was at the same level as the steering wheel.

The pair of them saw me safely to my destination in a full-scale blizzard before setting off to look for other fares. It was 10pm.

Grandmother Julie, in debt after bringing up six children on a low wage, will be 72 before she can claim a state pension. For now, she is doing what she can to make ends meet.

Light pollution

WHAT have we lost if we lose the night sky? Spending this Christmas on the highly-developed coastal fringe of Tenerife, I looked up from my balcony into a sky no darker than whisky to see not a single star. The flashing of fluorescent Christmas decorations combined with light pouring out from a series of gigantic hotels, apartment blocks and neon bar signs completely to blot out the black.

Dreaming of a green Christmas

IN JONATHAN Franzen’s novel, The Corrections, there is a scene where an old man gets down the family Christmas lights only to find that they are broken. He knows he can fix them, although it will be a challenge as tree lights are more complex than they once were. He also knows that what he really should do is chuck them in the bin and go to the nearest Walmart where he can replace them for the price of a packet of fishfingers. However, in a small act of defiance against the throwaway society, he devotes the rest of the day to repairing the cheap decorations.

If you were to examine Earth through a telescope you might see spinning around our blue planet any number of bits of jettisoned junk – old satellites, bits of shuttles, tools dropped by astronauts. Even space cludgies and their contents.

A friend once commented that it was the best reason she had ever heard for sending more women into space – to clear up the mess the men had left. But, joking aside, it is a sign that we live, more than ever, in a throwaway world.

Headline Losing the life and soul of the party

Rock on, Tommy. What would the Scottish Parliament be like without Mr Sheridan? It is like asking what small Scottish towns would be like if the Italians had never arrived. They would be about as exciting as watching paint that has already dried gradually flake and fall off.

Picture a wet November night in 1850s Airdrie with the chip papers blowing across the high street like tumbleweed. Do we want Holyrood to be like that?

There are very few memorable characters in our young parliament and we simply cannot afford to lose Sheridan, who is under pressure to step back from public life in the aftermath of an expose of his private life in the News of the World.

Train Travel – and a defence of faith schools

To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, wrote Robert Louis Stevenson, but he might have changed his mind had he caught the London-Edinburgh sleeper last week. A six-hour delay was compounded by the behaviour of one guard who positively delighted in shouting passengers awake and hurling them off the train at Crewe – without telling them the train we were on would be heading north a little later anyway.

My husband explained I had a migraine and the guard immediately threatened to get security to chuck us off, although his colleague had given us permission to stay put.
Delays happen with all kinds of transport, but contrast our experience with the caring service generally offered by air stewards. Buying berths earlier, I queued at Kings Cross only to be accused of being a potential fraudster as I did not have our train tickets. So I called ScotRail on my mobile, bought the berths by phone and picked up tickets from the station machine.

Heady days in pursuit of the redcoats. Reminiscence about the pleasures of hunt sabbing

The start of autumn always reminds me. The thud of Dutch paratrooper boots
on our door at 4am and young voices yelling: ”Get up everyone. It’s the
vegan police.”

Once someone let them in, they would clatter up and down the stairs of our squatted terrace in Brighton, hammering on doors and blowing horns.

After rising in the pre-dawn chill of the unheated rooms, throwing on parkas or bomber jackets, we would stand outside waiting for the convoy of Land-Rovers that came to pick us up of a Saturday morning. Amateurs like myself would stand to one side, thin roll-ups in shivering fingers, hung-over and grumbling. The real enthusiasts, however, were always raring to go. This was the highlight of their week, a holiday from the urban ghetto. Suddenly, they had an identity and a purpose. They were hunt saboteurs.

When does security turn to paranoia?

So what, finally? So what that a middle-aged man in a wrinkled pyjama suit and bat hood climbed a wall at Buckingham Palace? After a while he got cold and came down again. Then he was arrested. Later he was released without charge as he did not appear to have broken any obvious laws.

Nobody was hurt, nobody died, nothing was damaged. The Queen and her gang weren’t even there – they were about as far away as it is possible to get and still be in Britain, shooting anything that moves on the Balmoral estate.

And yet the nation seemed to go into an instant paroxysm of fear and panic. The home secretary was called to account to parliament for a ”breach of security”, calls were made for security to be stepped up.


A woman’s right to choose has been for decades one of the central planks of feminism. Safe, legal abortion must be available on demand. And looking back from the relative freedom women have gained today, it is hard to imagine how bound women once were to their biology, how they were once as Simone de Beauvoir put it ”slaves to the species”, unable to pursue achievement as individuals because of their role as vessels for future generations.

Saki and Sven Goran-Eriksson

There is a Saki story about a woman who begins telling the truth about everything, even her age, which greatly annoys her older sister. ”Veracious, even to months,” she goes around informing everyone that she is 42 and five months old. The habit grows on her, ”like lichen upon an apparently healthy tree”. Soon she can no longer restrain herself from truth-telling. She tells the truth to her dressmaker – which is reflected in the bill. Finally, in a few ill-chosen words, she tells the cook that she drinks: ”The cook was a good cook, as cooks go, and, as cooks go, she went.” Sadly, this satirical portrait of the pitfalls encountered by the sanctimonious truth-teller will probably seem rather shocking today.

Our increasingly puritanical society seems to demand that those in the public eye tell the truth about everything, even or especially, those matters about which  it would once have been de rigueur to dissemble.

Wind power

HE SUBJECT of wind power seems to be causing an increasing amount of feeling
and perhaps, no pun intended, hot air. While the pro-lobby is keen to point out that something must be done before climate change wipes out the planet, the antis are building up steam as they protest about what they see as the despoiling of Scotland’s beauty spots.
Wind power seems like something Scotland ought to be good at: we certainly have lots of windswept hills. However, we have lost our tradition of using renewable energy and there are legitimate concerns about introducing it again, this time on an industrial scale.
Windmills and watermills were once a feature of the landscape across Britain and it was interesting when visiting the Dutch paintings at the Queen’s Gallery in Edinburgh to note seventeenth-century depiction of the white cliffs of Dover dotted with windmills.

I wouldn’t put my shirt on house prices

Note: A house price crash hasn’t happened yet, a gentler correction is underway, but a fall may still come.

Why have property prices doubled in five years? The government has bought the idea that it is because there are not enough homes to meet demand. This is rubbish and John Prescott’s pledge to build one million homes in the south-east of England is a stupid way to try to bring down house prices.