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Authoritative look over dynamic year

GUIDE TO EDUCATION IN SCOTLAND 2000. by TES Scotland and The Times Higher Education Supplement. pound;19.99. Published by TSL Education, tel 01454 617370

TES Scotland and The Times Higher Education Supplement have produced an annual guide to Scottish education, reviewed here by Gordon Jeyes.

The TES Scotland and The Times Higher Education Supplement are to be congratulated on their first effort to produce an annual guide to education in Scotland. I have no doubt that this publication will go from strength to strength in the coming years based on high quality, objective reporting of the newspapers.

The 33-page review of the year is authoritative and entertaining. It illustrates well the particularly dynamic nature of Scottish education. After one year of devolution, descriptions of priorities in April 1999 seem almost pre-historic.

It would be easy to criticise the emphasis and highlight the omissions. I shall resist this, although given the involvement of Judith Gillespie, a few more acerbic comments about the Scottish School Board Association could have been expected. I must, however, join Willis Pickard, editor of TES Scotland, in congratulating her in her synthesising skills. Perhaps in future the year in focus can be accompanied by key articles in the style of The Guardian yearbook.

From the perspective of October 2000, one looks for background information to Higher Still, the Scottish Qualifications Authority and the McCrone inquiry. There are helpful insights.

Ron Tuck, erstwhile chief executive of the SQA, is described as having "the bitter-sweet experience of putting his own ideas into practice and then having to cope with the design problems". The self-evident irony does not conceal the fact that the specification for a chief executive of a national examinations ody should not include "putting his own ideas into practice". Indeed, it should be an immediate disqualification. Exam bodies should be neutral and the specification should emphasise credibility delivered effectively, economically and efficiently.

The response by Highland Council in withholding payment to the SQA is to be regretted if it casts further doubt on the results obtained through the substantial efforts of students in 2000. However, if non-governmental bodies believe they are subject to market discipline, withholding custom or payment are the most reasonable forms of accountability.

The irony is compounded in the SQA advertisement which states "SQA is proposing to revolutionaise (sic) the way it assesses qualifications". It certainly did, but perhaps not in the way intended.

Of course, I think the contribution of local authority staff is under-represented in the review and this is compounded in the reference section, which lists only chairs and directors. After all, the work is all done by heads of service. (You can tell I delegated this task.) At pound;19.99 the guide is value for money but the reference section is probably insufficient to replace the education authorities directory and annual, although the latter costs pound;60 in paperback. It would certainly be a shame if this well-intentioned publication was only purchased out of loyalty. I am optimistic that the reference section will improve and the right balance be struck between the review of the year and guide information.

Journalists from the publications sponsoring this guide play an important part in the scrutiny of education. They are questioning, rigorous and sceptical without the sensational or ideological baggage of the mainstream press.

Gordon Jeyes is director of Children's Services, Stirling

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