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'Can do' confidence in schools

his week's significant conference, "Towards A Confident Scotland", was in some ways a paradox. The general theme, that Scotland is in the grip of negative forces, was certainly enough to send people into the depression we were being urged to avoid. We can, of course, all recognise this description when it comes to the expectations of young people which schools are constantly pressed to raise, often - it is said - against the odds that are our national psyche.

But, historically, the school system has always appeared to buck negative perceptions. It was said, and often still is, to be "second to none" or "the best in the world". The key question that confronts schools - and it was a pity there were not more representatives at the conference - is whether they are also on the national rack in lacking confidence.

There is a world of difference between asserting there is something endemic in our nature which belittles or undermines achievement, and acknowledging the presence of potentially malevolent but ephemeral factors such as the way schools are managed or what they teach which may also undermine achievement. Which is it?

As our columns amply testify on a weekly basis, there is in many schools a dynamism and curiosity about the way pupils learn and how they should be taught that has probably never been present before. If Scotland is said to suffer from the "aye that'll be right" syndrome, many schools are acknowledging that there is not always a right and a wrong way of doing things. Some are even encouraging the notion that setbacks or failures are a learning experience, not the end of the road.

This particular road for schools is certainly long and winding but it is, dare we say it, a confident start.

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