P&J Column for 21.7.14

Coats and jumpers out, shorts and t-shirts in. How’s that for a summer cabinet reshuffle?

Struan Metcalfe, MSP for Aberdeenshire North and Surrounding Nether Regions

Crikey, what a week that was for the Conservative Party, the whole cabinet gets a makeover but yet again I am overlooked for a front bench position. I raised that with my local Party Chairman and he said ‘Don’t be silly, Struan, there aren’t any MSP’s in the cabinet’. Exactly! I’m just the chap to be the first. That’s the problem with the Tories, sometimes they can be a bit conservative.

So…Gove, eh? Out on his ear from Education. That’ll teach him to try and teach teachers how to teach. Heard he got locked in the lavatory on his first day on the job as Chief Whip. Labour’s Angela Eagle, said he “managed to get stuck in the toilet in the wrong lobby and very nearly broke his own whip”. Well, I’ve no idea what he was up to, but he was in there a jolly long time. As it happens, I once got stuck in a toilet cubicle when I was in the third form at Gordonstoun. Well, I say ‘stuck’, what I mean is ‘imprisoned’. I was locked in a cubicle by the school bully, Damian “The Wedgie-Master” Debrett. I’ve had a fear of enclosed spaces ever since, as well as a strong aversion to Neutrodol.

The Daily Mail were rightly lambasted this week for their coverage of the new cabinet appointments, showing more interest in the appearance of our new female Ministers than in their political achievements. Super Dave was furious. He thinks The Mail have debased the whole equality agenda with their sexist witterings. He’s right of course, that kind of lazy, cheap, male chavinism clearly belong to Yesterday. Which, funnily enough, is when I sent this tweet –

“Tory Cabinet reshuffle. Out with the middle-aged men, in with the Totty! Woof! My kind of party!”

Jonathan M Lewis, Headteacher at Garioch Academy

Let me begin by stressing that I am still firmly ‘in post’. Pay no heed to the vicious rumour that my recent 2-day meeting behind closed doors in a dark room with the Education Scotland Inspectors was in some way a disciplinary matter, relating to gross misconduct. The powers that be were simply interested in the thought process behind one of my recent strategic decisions. As always, my reputation as a risk-taking educational visionary precedes me.

I’m referring to the letter sent out to the parents of S1 pupils who had not attained the required standards in literacy and numeracy. It is a challenge for we educators to convey unhappy truths to parents effectively, but with sensitivity. The sickly-sweet letter from Borrowford Primary School in England which went ‘viral’ last week demonstrates that it is all too easy to err on the side of the saccharine.

I maintain that tough love is best. I could have sent a letter saying “never mind about your results, you can dance and sing and hurl sloggies in the toilets to Olympic standards” but stating the facts clearly and simply is kinder in the long term. I will concede that my opening sentence “Your child’s profound inadequacies bring shame upon us all” may have been upsetting to some, but complacency is the enemy of progress. I also stand by my closing remark: “In conclusion, you are the parent’s of a failing child, I trust you will do whatever is necessary to improve there performance.” Though I accept that the appearance of a comma splice, a misuse of the apostrophe and an incorrect homonym in a letter about pupils’ literacy was sub-optimal.

As it happens, a handful of parents found my approach too honest and, as a direct result of my letter, have withdrawn their children from the school with immediate effect. Consequently our percentages have crept right back up again. As I pointed out to the Education Scotland Inspectors, you can’t argue with results!

Professor Hector Schlenk, Senior Research Fellow at the Bogton Institute

As a scientist, I’m always being asked questions, like “what is the geological age of the Earth?”, “I’m going on holiday to California, how likely is a major earthquake along the San Andreas fault?”, and “Would you like salad and sauce with that?”

Recently, people have been asking me what I think about UKube, to which I reply that it’s still absolutely my go-to website for videos of cute kittens doing the funniest things. Then I laugh so hard that I feel a slight pain in my left temple and get a little giddy. But they are, of course, referring to UKube-1, the Scottish nano-satellite that was successfully launched last week, raising hopes that we may yet see Scotland embark upon manned space flight and send Chick Young to the moon, whether he wants to go or not.

UKube-1 is a marvellous feat of engineering which manages to fit six payloads into a rectangular structure little bigger than a shoe-box. Its manufacturers hope to mass-produce the clever little things and sell them a cost of around £200,000 each. By my calculations, it would take a mere 37.4 UKubes to carry all of the Scottish Commonwealth Games uniforms into space. Even in these times of austerity and funding crises I am sure we can all agree that would be money well spent.