Hugh Reilly: Leap into the future from the high board

IN SIOUX Indian culture, a boy became a brave by surviving the Sun Dance, a rite of passage whereby talons of eagles attached to rawhide ropes were pushed into his chest muscles.

The simple choreography of the dance entailed the ropes being tied to a large pole and the somewhat reluctant hoofer invited to take a few steps back. Enduring the pain for three days without the hint of a grumble ensured a successful graduation, whereas wimping out meant living with the squaws and collecting firewood. Being called “Woman Who Walks Far” further diminished one’s standing around the campfire.

Thankfully, the rite of passage for a Scottish laddie is not so brutal. For many young men the journey to manhood begins in Dundee, the legendary city of the three Js: jute, jam and joblessness. The council swimming pool is the place where a teary-eyed father can witness his son becoming a man by jumping off the top diving board. I recall proudly watching my eldest male issue climbing purposefully up the ladder before, rather alarmingly, hinting that his preference was to leap off the piddly two metre board. A Caesar-like upward flick of my hand indicated that he scale the next set of rungs to the more manly five metre board. To his credit, he did so, even if he trembled like a blancmange sitting atop a washing machine on a spin cycle. Soon he was peering over the edge. “Jump!” I silently screamed. When this didn’t work, I shrieked: “Jump or I’ll disown you!” (I’m paraphrasing).

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Education minister Mike Russell must feel like a fretting dad at the bottom of the diving board ladder. At this week’s EIS conference in Dundee, delegates from two local associations will plead for the Curriculum for Excellence to be postponed for one year. If the government does not accede to this demand, the proposers state that strike action should be considered.

In terms of industrial relations, the bugle call to man the barricades over CfE is a classic case of too little, too late. At risk of being labelled a pedant, CfE began life in 2002, a love child of the Labour/Lib Dem bidie-in administration. That it has been a decade in the making rather undercuts the strident voices of EIS activists who claim the reform is being rushed through. An asthmatic hedgehog completing the London marathon would have been quicker.

Doubtless the education Luddites of Renfrewshire and South Lanarkshire will have been emboldened by Russell’s misguided decision to allow East Renfrewshire to break ranks and delay implementation. His failure to confront the country’s most successful education authority has ultimately lead to a minority of union activists putting their heads above the parapet in a show of unnecessary bravado.

In my opinion, classroom teachers will reject the exhortation to withold their labour. Too much time, energy and resources have already been invested in ensuring the intiative has the best possible outcomes for learners. Every local authority, school and, indeed, individual teacher has had ample opportunity to raise a hand and ask for assistance. In March, in response to requests for more help, the government pulled a £3.5 million rabbit out of the budget hat to allay any lingering fears of stakeholders.

The recent report of Education Scotland into the progress of CfE, the so-called “deep audit”, showed the scheme was on track. Not unexpectedly, this proof did not convince CfE cynics. Armed with anecdotal evidence, they paint a Picasso picture of a disjointed profession. Perceived negative aspects are exaggerated, while obvious advantages are either minimised or ridiculed. Despite receiving acclaim from overseas colleagues, CfE unfathomably continues to excite the heart rate of the doom-mongers.

In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, Russell stated “there is no alternative”. He is wrong. We could carry on with the present system of teaching our children, using methodology and assessment techniques our grandparents would recognise. Or we could embrace change by introducing a curriculum that at least has the potential to produce confident, well-balanced individuals with learning skills fit for the modern world. Let’s feel the fear and do it. Jump!

• It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Ken Corsar, a former director of education in Glasgow. On the few occasions I met him, he was a gentleman and always had the best interests of the city’s schoolchildren at heart.

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