MUCH more radical thinking is required if schools are to be truly inclusive, Bishop Richard Holloway of Edinburgh said in the opening address to the fourth annual TES ScotlandEdinburgh City Council conference.
In a stark plea to the politicians, Bishop Holloway, retiring Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, described socially excluded families as "internal exiles in their own homeland", and said their reintegration was "probably the most important question on Scotland's agenda today".
Such views have been heavily influenced by his experience as chairman of a special commission on social exclusion in Edinburgh,
set up by the city's Lord Provost.
Bishop Holloway said the problem lay with the system. Schools were forced to engage in "a losing game of civilisation catch-up with the children of the excluded . . . who at two years old are already marked out for failure".
Unless the deficit in these children's lives was made up, Bishop Holloway declared, "they will be lost forever and be fed into the criminal justice system".
The perpetuation of the present system would mean teachers continuing to play "social catch-up" while doing their normal jobs, yet "someone ha to do the catch-up".
If there was no attempt to tackle the "culture of disintegration", Bishop Holloway suggested, professionals would continue to be used as "scapegoats for society's own failure to correct the system that produces such troublesome victims.
"Our periodic fits of anger at teachers and social workers is as logical as blaming flood control operatives for global warming."
But, he continued, a massive redistribution of ideas and systems, as well as resources, would be necessary to give schools more freedom so that they do not "feel forced to press unsocialised children on to the template of an official system".
Bishop Holloway unexpectedly argued that, while radical action was required to allow schools to work more effectively, schools themselves should be "conservative institutions, intent on imparting the tradition that has developed so far; universities should be radical institutions, intent on interrogating the tradition and moving it on further. Liberals often fail to make this distinction in their theory of education and try, too quickly, to bring young people to the questioning of traditions they have not yet understood."
In an aside, he quipped: "Maybe teachers should be members of the Conservative Party and university lecturers followers of Tommy Sheridan."