Scottish education is suffering from an advanced case of acronymania: that is, the proliferation of abbreviations, many of which are comprehensible only to 'insiders'. The list extends far beyond familiar terms such as 'CfE' for 'Curriculum for Excellence' and 'SQA' for 'Scottish Qualifications Authority.' Professional shorthand is now used for all sorts of committees and working groups, as well as for an endless stream of policy initiatives. Being able to reel off the relevant acronym has become a mark of the informed employee, up to speed with the latest developments. Jargon is not seen as evidence of pretension, but as an essential part of the repertoire of the modern professional. That many of the groups to which some of the acronyms refer are more to do with empire building than productive work is never mentioned. They hold meetings and produce sanitised minutes – what more could possibly be required?
A document that often features in discussion among teachers is GIRFEC: this stands for 'Getting it Right for Every Child.' An essential requirement of getting it right for every child is that he/she should feel SHANARRI (I am not making this up). SHANARRI stands for 'Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Nurtured, Active, Respected, Responsible and Included.' Adjectival overload is now a regular feature of many official policy documents. The desired qualities are described as 'indicators of wellbeing.' Quite apart from the fact that SHANARRI sounds like an ill-chosen girl's name in a television soap (River City springs to mind), it is not clear what purpose this wish-list will serve in practical classroom contexts. It seems designed to make policy makers feel good about themselves rather than assist front-line staff in their efforts to promote children's development.
I became aware of the extent of acronymania in Scottish education while checking the glossary of a book which I am co-editing. Page after page of abbreviations made me rather soporific. But before I dropped off, I came up with an addition to the dreary catalogue: 'SWINNEY' – 'Scotland's Way of Inducing Near-Narcoleptic Educational Yawns.'
Are you in the market for a part-time job? Look no further. There is currently an attractive vacancy at the Standards Commission for Scotland, sometimes referred to in the popular press as the 'sleaze watchdog.' The appointment would enable you to make useful contacts in high places and perhaps prepare the way for further patronage which may come your way with the blessing of the Scottish parliament.
You must have 'high levels of integrity and excellent interpersonal skills' – characteristics surely not in short supply among SR readers. A time commitment of at least 24 days a year is required. For this you will be paid £246.44 a day plus an hourly rate of £32.86 for attending hearings, comfortably above the living wage and perhaps enough to compensate you for having to go to Edinburgh for meetings.
What exactly does the job entail? The Standards Commission for Scotland was established under the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000. It promotes and enforces the codes of conduct for councillors and members of devolved public bodies and issues relevant guidance. In cases of alleged contravention of the codes of conduct, the members of the commission consider the evidence and have statutory powers to impose sanctions. These include censure, suspension and disqualification.
Reports of cases that have come before the commission can be viewed on its website. These are mostly rather dull accounts of councillors who have failed to declare an interest or have acted towards council employees in an unacceptable manner. The usual outcome is a minor slap on the wrist, no doubt intended to provide reassurance to the public that standards are being maintained. Keen observers of the way regulatory bodies in Scotland operate may be less than convinced.
The current convener of the commission is Kevin Dunion OBE, who has followed a familiar pattern in Scottish public life, starting as a radical voice in journalism and the voluntary sector and ending up as an establishment figure. His career includes a spell as Scottish information commissioner between 2003 and 2012. In 2008 he was elected rector of St Andrews University and awarded an honorary LLD by the same institution in 2011. He is an honorary professor in the school of law at Dundee University and a member of the board of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.
According to the information for potential applicants, Professor Dunion will not be involved in appointing the new member of the commission. The task of recommending the favoured candidate to the Scottish parliament will fall to three MSPs – Jackson Carlaw (Conservative), Liam McArthur (Liberal Democrat) and David Stewart (Labour). Politicians are, of course, supremely well-qualified to pronounce on ethical matters. We can all be confident, therefore, that the process is in safe hands and that the good ship Complacent Scotland will sail on without impediment.
According to the charity Keep Scotland Beautiful, the quality of the country's environment is at a 10-year all-time low. This is despite the many initiatives, local and national, designed to encourage a more responsible attitude towards our surroundings. A report by the charity, based on more than 14,000 surveys of council areas across Scotland, concludes that 'The national picture is one of declining standards and neglect.' Various reasons for the trend are suggested: the effects of austerity on local authority budgets; unsustainable consumption; lack of civic pride; an increase in irresponsible behaviour. One million Scots, it is claimed, are living in 'dirty communities' blighted by litter, graffiti and flytipping. Deprived neighbourhoods are the worst hit.
Every so often the topic hits the headlines. Thus, for example, the damage caused to beaches and beauty spots by thoughtless day-trippers and campers has merited coverage from time to time. More politically embarrassing has been the attention given to Govanhill in Glasgow, following reports of crumbling buildings, discarded furniture and rubbish-strewn streets which were encouraging vermin. As Govanhill forms part of Nicola Sturgeon's constituency, pressure was put on Glasgow City Council to stage a clean-up operation. An update on the latest situation would be welcome.
It would be a mistake, however, to imagine that all is well in more prosperous areas. Despite the best efforts of schools in leafy suburbs, the streets surrounding them are usually strewn with empty drinks cans and discarded crisp and sweet wrappers. Even churchgoers are not immune from the national disease of environmental carelessness. At a well-attended church near me, where the worshippers arrive in cars and park them inconsiderately, there is nearly always a scattering of debris on the pavements after services. Clearly the spiritual enlightenment offered by the preacher's address has not been enough to sustain them until they get home.
The Keep Scotland Beautiful report concludes that 'the current disjointed approach is simply not working.' A sustained campaign similar to the smoking ban may have better results. But before a new initiative is launched, complete with ambitious 'targets' and 'milestones', we would do well to consider what it is about our national psychology that makes us insensitive to our surroundings, particularly when we are blessed with so many wonderful landscapes.