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Climb every mountain

Roy Jobson put his finger on it (page four). The president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland pointed out that the sums of money going into the Executive's "schools of ambition" programme represent just 3 per cent of the average secondary school's annual spend - recast as pound;6 million for 20 schools over three years, it sounds slightly more impressive. Similarly, the additional funding being committed by tycoons Tom Hunter and Lord Laidlaw, announced this week, could be regarded as small beer, too - which might be the answer to those who fear they are ploughing in millions to buy entrepreneurial influence over schools.

In a sense, however, money is not the issue - or at least, it is not the only issue. If the schools of ambition initiative is to mean anything, it is that the purpose is to instil ambition - whatever form that takes. Money is the generator, but it alone will not ensure success.

It was again Mr Jobson, in a thoughtful presentation to a conference on education reform, who asked the key question: where does lack of ambition lie? Is it with the local authority, the headteacher, the teachers, the parents, the pupil, the local community? Bidders who hope to reach the ranks of the first 20 schools will need to be able to answer these questions. They may be comfortable pointing to parents and pupils as sources of failure, but less comfortable if the finger points to the professionals.

The crux of the matter, of course, is how schools can become more ambitious if they are surrounded by communities that are anything but and where the majority of households may be heading for their third generation of unemployment. The community contribution to the Executive's programme is perhaps the least well-defined aspect, yet in some respects it matters at least as much as the contribution of the school.

Nobody is in much doubt that making schools ambitious is, indeed, ambitious. But, as has often been remarked, just because a mountain appears to pose insuperable odds does not mean we should not try to climb it. After all, politicians themselves are frequently accused of lacking sufficient ambition -in the policy sense.

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