I met Tom Bryce yesterday at the Scottish Learning Festival. Tom is co-editor with Walter Humes of the most recent edition of Scottish Education, which should be obligatory reading for anyone involved or interested in the future of education in Scotland. The list of contributors reads like a “who’s who” of Scottish education and provides a fascinating insight into the range of interest groups who contribute to shaping our understanding of education in Scotland.
It was during our chat that I tried to recall a feature from Walter Humes’ book published in 1986 entitled The Leadership Class in Scotland which is also mentioned in their most recent publication. I struggled to remember if it was the “Killiecrankie effect” or the “Kingussie effect” until Tom put me out of misery with the “Kirriemuir career” – it wasn’t even the “effect”. Lindsay Paterson explained in his own book on Scottish Education in the 20th century how the phrase had originally been coined to describe a dominant group of educationalists who had come from small burgh towns to be representative of the mythological “lad o’ pairts”.
I’d read Humes’ book about the The Leadership Class back in the late 1980’s and I now realise I hadn’t properly grasped the meaning of the “Kirriemuir career”. The phrase – mistakenly – had resonated with me as I saw so many of the influential school leaders in Scotland being the leaders of a small burgh towns – and that they often had a disproportionate national effect in comparison to their counterparts who led large city schools – some of which were very prestigious.
It was whilst listening to Charles Leadbeater later in the day that I was reminded why my understanding of the “Kirriemuir effect” might have some credibility. Leadbeater argued that you tend not to find innovation in large public service organisations. In his terms you need to look to the margins. When I consider where the examples of innovation and creativity are in Scottish education at the moment I’m led to conclude that the small town school is often – although not exclusively – the nurturing ground for educational change and dynamic practice. Perhaps such schools have less to lose, or perhaps the change process is easier than in a monolithic organisation which is more resitant to the change process?
I’m certainly going to give this more throught over the next few weeks but in the meantime I think I’ll hold onto my understanding of the “Kirriemuir Effect”.