TO Dunoon where I met the inspirational staff and pupils of Dunoon Grammar school who have been voted best in the world for their community engagement initiatives.

The judges were impressed by the school’s commitment to reversing the brain drain that sees the youth of Scotland’s islands and its remote and rural communities, stream away from their homes for a more rewarding life in busier places.

Those whom I’ve encountered have always expressed their regret at not feeling able to make homes and careers in the places they were born. And when you visit them you often wish you could live and work there too.

Paul Gallanagh, head of business and IT at Dunoon Grammar has been a driving force behind many of his pupils’ engagements with the town. He intends to spend a significant portion of their $50k prize money developing an E-sports hub in the school.

His reasoning is simple: the vibrant technological landscape of E-sports and gaming is where the big jobs and opportunities are opening up. By developing their expertise in this potentially rewarding sector the pupils at Dunoon Grammar can gain a crucial edge when the time comes for them to find employment.

Even better: they won’t be required to be sitting in an office in Glasgow or London to do such jobs. And if they were to spend most of their lives on a place like Dunoon they’ll probably live an extra few years too.



THE numbers which periodically indicate distress in the NHS and our education system often betray the work done off-camera to improve the picture.

Last week I interviewed Susan Stewart, Director of the Open University in Scotland for a long overdue chat about the work of this amazing institution. Susan described the OU as second only to the NHS in the list of Britain’s greatest social interventions.

She told me about an OU initiative to help the National Care Service by re-skilling and re-training Scotland’s under-valued and underpaid social care workforce. Alongside this is an initiative to make health and social care a more attractive career path for school-leavers.

There’s also a strategy to identify NHS employees who currently work at a relatively junior or unskilled level but who have shown an aptitude for something more purposeful. It’s a tripartite approach involving Scotland’s 32 health boards and the Open University whereby these workers train part-time to be nurses while the Scottish Government provides the funds to cover their shifts.

Some people, for all manner of reasons, fail to do justice to themselves in their teens and early adulthood, yet society chooses to shut doors on them throughout the rest of their lives.

The beauty and simplicity of the Open University is in opening those doors and inviting people to have another go.



I CONFESS to Susan Stewart that I rather misspent my first attempt at education during three years at Glasgow University. I departed that grand place of learning having rarely glimpsed the inside of any of its lecture halls.

Instead, I spent a right few grand of the government’s money learning first-hand about the economic inequalities of small African states by signing up for the South West African People’s Organisation … or at least their brilliant social nights.

I regularly urged the US to get their hands off El Salvador and Nicaragua; visited Yorkshire to give succour to grateful striking miners and insulted Margaret Thatcher during several educative marches. So, it wasn’t all a waste of money.

This presented me with an obvious problem when attending those first crucial job interviews that could determine the future course of your life: how to fill the rather large – and uncertificated - gap in your Higher Education stretch without actually lying about it.

As the millennials might put it, I attempted “to own” my failure. Thus I would explain to my future bosses that the educational standards of Glasgow University, exacting as they were, nevertheless hadn’t quite met my academic expectations.

And that I’d be better off pursuing a career in the more stimulating learning environment of their splendid insurance/banking/retail management/Royal Mail/Civil Service operations.

I HAD actually undertaken to study English Literature at Glasgow University. Everything went brilliantly for the first few weeks, reading the English Lake Poets and exploring themes of madness and mayhem in the works of Lord Byron.

Then I asked my English professor when we could expect to start writing our own material. That was, after all, why we were getting the privilege of reading Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats and Coleridge, was it not: to try and produce a bit of poetry and prose ourselves?

This septuagenarian Oxford-educated don was having none of it, though. “You’re not here to write; you’re here to appreciate writing.” An old west of Scotland phrase about concupiscence and a game of soldiers sprang immediately to mind.