Skills to pay the bills - a parliamentary sketch

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 31 March 2017 in Comment

A Scottish Parliament debate on physical literacy sees MSPs compete to gain former rugby player Kenny Logan’s approval

Rugby - image credit: Creative Commons

As anyone who has ever spent time in the Scottish Parliament will know, the place is a cradle of wisdom. A learned place. Go there any day and you will find the sharpest minds in Scotland discussing the biggest questions. It is a place that David Hume or Adam Smith would not be ashamed to call home.

And on this particular day, MSPs were grappling with the concept of knowledge development itself. Well, sort of – they were debating the STEP physical literacy programme, which is a set of exercises using the core skills of balance, eye-tracking and coordination to help children learn more efficiently and socialise more easily.

You could tell it was an important subject, because top rugby player Kenny Logan was there, and he isn’t usually. Kenny Logan had struggled with dyslexia at school and, experiencing stigma from living with an undiagnosed learning disability, had been treated as if he was stupid.


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MSPs were clearly very excited about Kenny Logan’s presence and referred to it almost constantly. In fact, apparently desperate for his approval, they referenced him thirteen times in the course of the debate. To put that in perspective, there were only seven speakers.

And as is so often the case, the MSP leading the debate – in this case, Liz Smith – did her best to do the topic justice, explaining how the programme can help with basic learning skills such as sitting still, maintaining concentration and physically following letters when reading.

She said: “The programme has been shown to have benefits for almost any pupil, but the greatest impact is shown to be on those in the lowest quartile of classroom performance.”

Daniel Johnson followed to argue that he is rubbish at tennis, before asserting that “we live in the physical world” – which is probably true, though a critic might suggest it says a lot about the parliament that it needed to be asserted in the first place.

Johnson said that, having been diagnosed with ADHD, he probably would have benefited from the STEPS programme. In fact, MSPs from across the chamber made similar points on how they would have benefited.

As Elaine Smith put it: “As deputy convener of the cross-party group on dyslexia and the mother of a rugby-playing dyslexic son, I was particularly pleased to see the STEP programme being championed by Kenny Logan.”

But probably the best speech came from Tory MSP Brian Whittle, who began his story in Primary  4 and then moved towards the present day at more or less the same speed that real life passes.

“We played football at every opportunity,” he recalled, “with a tennis ball, because that was all that we were allowed to play with.”

Whittle then began to explain the rules of a game he last played 40 years ago.

“It was one Primary 4 class against the other – 30-a-side for a week before we reset the score. The game started at 8.30am every day. Truanting? Kids were dragging their parents out to get them to school to get to the game. The P5s, P6s and P7s were doing the same, criss-crossing the playground at full pelt. It was like playing football on Sauchiehall Street on a Saturday.”

Was Kenny Logan impressed? Who knows. It was hard to know what to make of it all.

“I sense all the health and safety officers passing out,” said Whittle. But it was OK, he explained, because “nobody got mashed or killed”.

That wasn’t the end of it, though some were perhaps starting to lose focus. In a desperate attempt to hold members’ attention, he asked if anyone remembered British bulldogs, before arriving at the time “I discovered that I could put one foot in front of the other faster than most and joined a running club”.

MSPs looked a bit unsure about what to make of it. Except Kenny Logan, who looked down on all of them benignly. They had done well.

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