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Ambition's fine, but is it enough?

The announcement of the first group of 20 "schools of ambition" is a crafty piece of work. Since there is officially no such thing as a "failing" school in Scotland, the chosen schools had to reflect the fact that this was not something that could be labelled as a rescue package. So the inclusion of schools such as Anderson High and St Modan's High (the first school to win public praise from an education minister for the excellence of its HMIE report) can be used to demonstrate that this is indeed a programme for the top performers which want to extend their reach and aim higher - as well as one for those which must do better for different reasons.

The individual initiatives which won each of the 20 schools a place on the programme make fascinating reading, not least because so many have opted to do the same kind of things. James Boyle and his cultural commissioners will be delighted at the extent to which the arts are seen as a vehicle to bring about improvements (see below). There are common themes, too, in the extent to which schools see ICT, enterprise, creativity, pupil choice and curriculum innovation as key ingredients for revival.

The progress of these measures will be equally fascinating to watch. It is always better to be optimistic, but experience south of the border shows that expectations are not always fulfilled. It has been recently reported that one of England's city academies in Middlesborough has been placed in "special measures", and also that more than half of specialist schools had failed to meet GCSE targets in their chosen subjects.

There are other indicators of success, of course, and David Bell, the chief inspector in England, may well be right that being part of "an optimistic network of like-minded schools" creates an impetus for improvement. There is certainly no harm in being ambitious.

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