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Tartan Day

April 7, 2010

The 6th of April is of course the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath and has been designated  “Tartan Day” in some places for more than a decade.

Jim Mather in Boston

Around the day a “Scotland Week” has grown up in which there is intensive activity in a whole variety of places and this present Scottish Government (and our predecessors, to be fair) tries to ensure the maximum advantage from that focus –  in terms of tourism and business links  – in any way it can.   Both governments have sent groups of ministers to North America at this time of year , and this year Fiona Hyslop is in New

Fiona Hyslop with Alan Cumming in New York

York and Tenessee, whilst Jim Mather is in Boston and Houston, amongst other places.

Such visits are  also an opportunity to listen and learn about innovations in a range of policy areas  and I spent most of the day listening and learning about education.

The first three hours were spent at the Ontario Ministry of Education , where a series of officials, from the Deputy Minister, Kevin Constante,  down (the Minister was away on business in her constituency which is over 500 miles distant) made presentations to us about the curriculum, literacy and numeracy and teacher education.

Ontario – indeed   the whole of Canada –  performs  well  in international educational league tables and Ontario has been particularly successful in recent years in meeting its three key objectives – raising individual student achievement, closing the gap between the best and worst performing whilst raising overall achievement, and increasing public confidence in education.  The Provincial Premier believes passionately in education as a number one priority for his government and having been in office for 8 years there has been a very useful stability in policy that has allowed much intelligent and productive innovation.   Driving up  student performance  has been seen as a key  task for everyone involved  in education and the resulting consensus has been sustained by offering considerable support to teachers and individual schools – in fact the non judgemental  intervention on low performing schools has been crucial.

I am very struck by the fact that wherever you go, the issue of the highest standards in teaching – and how to achieve – them sits at the centre of succesfull innovation in education.  So does achieving stability in policy arising out of an agreed way forward.  Both those points were emphasised again over lunch, where I met with Dr Avis Glaze, the former Head of Student Achievement in Ontario, who was brought into that specially made role in order to mastermind the necessary changes.    She is an inspirational educator and much in demand internationally  and she thinks highly of the existing strengths of the Scottish system though has some suggestions for how we might want to tackle issues of excellence and equity, the two key watchwords in the Ontario system.

At the Arrowsmith School

Afer lunch I paid a visit to the Arrowsmith School.  I have a strong interest in learning difficulties and I had heard of the work that Barbara Arrowsmith Young was doing in Toronto.  It is an interesting  methodology, which has now been adopted by the Catholic School Board in Toronto and by a number of other schools throughout Canada.   Whilst there I launched a new website devoted to the links between Scotland and Canada and which is rich in content and features.

My final educational visit of the day was to the Council of Canadian Education Ministers. Education is a Provincial responsibility – and that situation is jealously guarded – and Canada is such a vast country that are are a range of different approaches.  But there are lots of common issues across the country and world wide and once again it is very instructive to hear new perspectives on them and to realise that we did somethings very well, but could learn how to do others a fair bit better.

Its not only ideas that get shared though.

The pile of documents - so far....

There are always a lot of brochures, booklets and files handed over .   They are all of interest but at certain stages you begin to wonder about how much the excess baggage costs are going to be for the return journey !

Before hosting the annual Tartan Day reception – jointly organised by the Scottish Government, Scottish Development International and visitscotland – I had a brief meeting with Doug Warrington, Director of Ultimate Golf Vacations a company that brings lots of Canadian golfers to the Scotland’s many great golf courses.   The current rate of exchange makes such trips every more affordable.

The reception was very well attended and I met a lot of people whom were also there last year from businesses which work in Scotland as well as Canada – for example in the energy sector and in bio medical – through to importers of Scottish goods .    Last year we were able to help Geoffrey Taylor from the Toronto Writers Festival  to feature Scottish writers in his world class event by dint of a partnership with the Edinburgh Book Festival and it was good to talk to him again about the plans for the coming year which once again will have Scottish authors promoting their work to Canadian audiences and vica versa.

The  entertainment  at the reception was provided by three very able students from the RSAMD who have been performing in New York for Scotland Week as well.    Kirsty MacKinnnon,

Kirsty MacKinnon performing for Scotland Week in New York.

the singer, is from Mull and she chose to feature  not only a lovely Gaelic song of emigration but also one of  Hamish Henderson’s outstanding compositions.

The final event of the day was a dinner organised by the British Vice Consul, Ashley Prime who has been a constant help to the Scottish Government in everything we have tried to do here.   Amongst those at the table were  Dr Kirsty Duncan, a Liberal MP in the Federal Parliament and a key supporter of all things Scottish (she did her PhD in Edinburgh ) , Jim Peterson a former Federal Minister of External Trade, Cheryl Misak the Provost of Toronto University and our own former First Minister Henry MacLeish, who happened to be in town.

It was after 11.00 when I got back to the hotel, and I took a rain check on the blog (sorry

Speaking at the Scotland Week Reception in Toronto

) as it had been a long day .   But I did get up before 6.00am to make sure the tartan day celebrations were recorded – and of course to check the news.  For any politician being three thousand miles away when an election is called is a little strange !

Today is a day for tourism and diaspora meetings and then I am off to San Francisco in the early evening.   I hope that the rain of Toronto melts into the sun of California !

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 7, 2010 3:38 pm

    A charaid chòir,

    Cha robh cothrom agam air bruidhinn ruibh a-raoir, ach bu toil leam a ràdh gun do chòrd an oidhche rium gu mòr.

    Bha mi cho toilichte gu robh Gàidhlig ann – ‘s e seinneadair brèagha a th’ ann an Kirsty.

    Tapadh leibh a-rithist, agus tha mi ‘n dòchas gum bi mi gur faicinn an ath-bhliadhna!

    le meas
    Janice Chan, Comann Luchd-Ionnsachaidh Thoronto

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