After the debate

SO have we had a national debate? Have we had a rational debate? It is difficult to tell. Many organisations or "stakeholders" submitted the expected self-serving comments, others called for changes while suggesting schools have been burdened with too many already, and the current fashion for "listening to young people" has produced a real mish-mash of scarcely credible notions.

Yet we may be at a crossroads. A hunger undoubtedly exists for new ideas to make schools (whatever their form) into more productive places. Arguably, this is already happening as we see attainment steadily rising, expectations following suit, the challenges of background being overcome, good practice being exchanged and a less centralised approach to the curriculum and assessment in the wake of the Higher Still debacle. Even the confident performance of many youngsters during some of the debates might leave us wondering why we need the exercise at all if these are the products of the current system.

The challenge for ministers is undoubtedly whether they are prepared to will the means as well as the ends. The single most consistent cry has been for smaller classes. Will there be a response? Just because the policy will be in the SNP's election manifesto does not automatically make it a rotten idea.

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