Leading Article: The prime of Mr Brandon Lee

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The Independent Online
Mrs May MacKinnon and her son Brian kept themselves to themselves. Most days neighbours on their Glasgow estate would see the 32-year-old man come and go, often in his old car. They thought nothing more about it. Until this week, when they discovered that Brian MacKinnon's day job was acting the part of Brandon Lee, aged 17, star pupil at Bearsden Academy. In a performance requiring endurance far outweighing Tilda Swinton's stay in a glass case, old Brian played young Brandon for a year - a year in which he starred in the school production of South Pacific and which culminated in his achieving good enough qualifications to earn a place at Dundee University studying medicine.

The original Brian had attended the same school some 16 years earlier, but had left early with no qualifications. He was so unremarkable that even those teachers who spanned both his school careers do not remember him. And so Brian MacKinnon lived out a shared fantasy - he reinvented himself. Second time around he had a memorable name, more confidence and a model attitude towards study. He soared.

Today a lot of people are very unhappy about poor Brian-Brandon. Strathclyde education authority is to overhaul its registration procedures to avert another such incident. Glaswegians are not alone in wondering how it was possible for a schoolboy to secure his place at the school. Were the parents never contacted? Did no one wonder why Brandon's doting relatives failed to turn up with the Olympus flash camera to capture his "There is Nothing Like a Dame" for posterity? Is our educational system becoming so impersonal that teachers literally don't know who is sitting in the back row?

All this criticism misses the point. The teachers did not suspect anything because what Brian MacKinnon did was so very unlikely. Most of their efforts are directed to keeping children who want to be adults in school to study, not to keeping out adults who want to be pupils.

What is truly remarkable is not that the gratified teachers who taught the enthusiastic Brandon failed to twig, but that his "fellow" teenagers utterly missed what was in front of their noses. Consider the arcane codes, the obscure rituals, the oh-so-delicate social consciousness of adolescence. Vast amounts are read into tiny choices, from the soles of your trainers to the CDs in your collection; from the house you live in to the car your parents drive. Yet when he was asked why he looked, well, a bit tired, a mite wrinkly, Brandon's classmates appear to have accepted the explanation that it was "due to stress".

Apart from Strathclyde's belated action to ensure that never again do such keen would-be pupils get into their schools, Dundee University is also considering action. Brian's falsification of documents has "put his place at risk". This is bureaucratic nonsense. Brian MacKinnon has harmed no one, achieved his results fair and square - and given new meaning to the education rhetoric of all the parties. He will, surely, be remembered as the laureate of lifetime learning.