Blair and Scotland

EDUCATION dominated the headlines last week with Tony Blair receiving flak for hiring a private tutor to coach his children. But while the media and opposition MPs laid into the Prime Minister for not bringing the public sector up to scratch in his five years of office, Mr Blair spelt out to The TES his priorities for the education of the nation - standards, behaviour and choice (page five).

Money to meet his priorities is expected to come from next week's comprehensive spending review, where education is set to be the main beneficiary, though there are doubts it will be paralleled in Scotland, where the Executive has to foot the bill for free care for the elderly.

Standards and behaviour are already top of the agenda within Scotland's five national priorities, though schools eagerly await the extra teachers, resources and smaller classes required to cope with the behavioural problems that social inclusion brings. We do not have the permanently excluded pupils to which Mr Blair refers, as education authorities are committed to keeping those children within the system.

Choice is not one of the major issues in Scotland. With only four per cent of Scottish children educated in the independent sector (compared with seven per cent down south) and a tentative handful of specialist schools, there is no pressure to create the proliferation of specialist and beacon schools in which the Prime Minister appears to believe. He talks of the improvements since scrapping the old divide between grammar and secondary modern schools - but advocates new divisions.

So the contrast with Scotland could not be greater, although Mr Blair would no doubt insist he shares the social justice principles that drive Jack McConnell's administration. In England, however, there seems a relentless search for alternative systems. In Scotland, the emphasis is on improving the system which covers 96 per cent of the population.

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