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After the debate

THE Executive had already declared, and responses to the national educational debate largely confirmed, that Scottish education is heading in the right direction. So it could hardly have come up with radical departures, in its own response to the debate, which implied that it had been going in the wrong direction. Ministers had reassured teachers they were heading for a period of stability. So they could hardly indulge in a further round of reforms which would have had the opposite effect.

Yet ministers had to respond to professional and public preoccupations: otherwise what would have been the point of staging a great debate? The result of all these pressures and contradictions has inevitably led to a package of measures - some taking a decade to achieve - which could have ended up pleasing nobody. They are a mixture of work in progress, previous announcements and a few surprises.

Armchair commentators will, as always, bemoan the statement's lack of panache, drawing unfavourable comparisons with "action man" Tony Blair's educational reforms. But those at the sharp end ought to take a more intelligent and reflective view and treat the package as a rather clever mix of political pragmatism and educational realism.

Teachers will applaud the commitment to minimise but not to marginalise assessment and to review the curriculum. The SNP's pledge on class sizes has been challenged by a sharper focus which links it to the P7-S2 problem.

Tory rhetoric on devolution to headteachers has been matched. Parental critics of school boards have been offered reform. And pupils may welcome the piloting of different arrangements for the school day.

This is a reforming agenda by any yardstick, comprehensive (to coin a phrase) in its reach. Some may even feel it represents a few steps too far.

But the Executive has produced a balanced package. At least it risked a national debate which could have left behind nothing but hostages to fortune and weary cynicism. Instead it has taken genuine and immediate concerns on board while at the same time acknowledging that the public "do not expect everything to be changed at once".

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