I was chatting to our builder yesterday about schools. It seemed to me that this successful tradesman, running the building firm that he inherited from his father, had the secret of attainment in school well sussed. He attended the same school as my children, at the same time, and he told us a story.
He was in a science class - about S3/4 level - who were being taught by a supply teacher. She was pleasant, but deadly boring. He and his pals began to amuse themselves; the lesson was doomed. So, it seemed, was the supply teacher - for all knew well that she'd never regain the control necessary for learning to take place. Ah well.
A week later his father called him over for a quiet word. The essence of it was this: You were in a class being taught by Mrs. Bloggs? And you misbehaved and upset her? Right. Mrs Bloggs is a good customer of ours - in fact, I'm working on her house right now. If I ever hear that you've stepped out of line in her class again, I'll f******g well do you. Right?
Crude but effective. But it contains the seeds of success in many a small town school, where no-one is unknown and where the strangest connections emerge with remarkable rapidity. Pupils, teachers, Head Teacher and parents are linked in a symbiotic relationship in which all have to play their part or be found out. It makes for a relatively enjoyable existence for all - and that is where I taught for over 20 years without any of the negative fall-out which newcomers to a small town tend to fear.
But what else can we learn from this story? Nothing new, actually. The seeds of underachievement are to be found on both sides of the garden: boring teachers who wouldn't inspire the most docile of students, and uninterested or incapable parents. And then there's the growing sub-group of hostile and resentful parents as well, the ones who encourage their children not to let the teacher "get away" with any attempt to prevent their precious weans from walking all over everyone. Any one of these on its own will spoil the business of learning; more than one and we might as well all go home.
So what do you do to ensure that none of these weeds enter the Eden of education? No amount of pupil testing is going to help Mr Tedious to become a glowing enthusiast; no closing of the attainment gap is going to happen without somehow involving the parents in the enterprise. And no political manifesto is going to make a scrap of difference unless a whole generation of teachers and parents are somehow unified in one glowing, aspirational whole where the excitement of maths and the joy of literature and the joy of finding out become more important than a tidy record of work or where the next meal is coming from, or the next boyfriend, or the next fix.
I wouldn't have Nicola Sturgeon's job for anything. But those who advise her, who tell her that National Testing is the way to ensure that every child can have the same chances that she did, these advisors should perhaps begin by pointing at the Sturgeon family. They were the bedrock of the First Minister's success.
And she maybe managed to avoid the boring teachers ...