Letter from Westminster

Arriving in London this week was a bit like getting off the plane in Spain or Greece at the start of your summer holidays – the heat as I left the plane in Heathrow hit me like a wall.

Apart from a couple of heavy thunderstorms it has remained like that all week and as I type this I have a box of tissues on my desk and am probably driving everyone else in the office mad with my sniffing. The air quality in London is pretty poor at this time of year and I am afraid I have never learned to cope with it.

At this time of year I retain what remains of my sanity by focusing on the memory of days like the one I had on Friday when I joined pupils from Sandwick School, their tea­chers and RSPB staff on a trip to Mousa. No problems there with the air quality.

The purpose of the trip was to see for myself the work that the RSPB is doing with schools to promote what they call “outdoor education”. It was one of the most enjoyable days I have spent for a while.

The knowledge of and interest in their natural environment that the pupils demonstrated was impressive to say the least as was the way in which the staff then used the trip to build on that. It probably helped quite a bit that the weather stayed fair and we all managed to stay dry.

There is something of a modern myth that children these days never see the outdoors but spend their time inside playing with their Play­stations, etc. The truth (as I see it from observing my own children and their friends) is that enjoyment of indoor and outdoor pastimes are not mutually exclusive.

Outdoor education is exactly the sort of thing that a modern curri­culum ought to include. I hesitate to say that as, like many Scottish par­ents, I see some disruption coming down the tracks with the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence in our schools.

My eldest son embarks on his standard grade courses when the schools go back in August and I know what sort of qualification he will have at the end of his fourth year. The same is not true of his younger brother who will follow on in four years’ time.

There may be some grand an­noun­ce­ment packed full of details somewhere over the horizon. I hope so. Parents and teachers deserve to know what they can expect.

Safely decanted from the Mousa ferry it was then back to the office for an afternoon with my nose to the grindstone clearing correspondence (or making a dent in the backlog).

Early release was achieved by join­ing the congregation of the Epis­copal Church as they embarked on their Bible reading marathon. After the fresh air and high spirits of the morning this was an altogether more gentle and less exuberant affair but it still managed to be fun. We have a lot to be thankful for living in Shetland – our natural environ­ment and strong sense of community are two of our greatest assets. Days like Friday help me to appreciate them.

Alistair Carmichael MP


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