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Labour's new dawn for schools

IN YOUR follow-up last week to the Government's announcement of Pounds 1.3 billion extra for education I was disappointed to read the responses of the minority political parties.

The bland and visionless response from the Liberal Democrats was bettered by the SNP's sloganising (something of an art form for the separatists) only in as much as it was even more predictable, attempting to shift the focus from real improvement to an issue which will be dealt with by the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee later this year - teachers' pay.

However, the breathtaking hypocrisy from the Tories complaining of "low morale" caused by "increasing workload" and "pay being eroded" surpassed the political opportunism of both. Who has been in government for the past two decades?

The lack of any substance from a politician is a clear sign of a lack of ideas. The sterile attempts of the minority parties to take the gloss off the Government's announcement of a new dawn for education as we approach the new millennium says much more about their vacuous state of mind than New Labour's programme for improving standards in schools.

Of course, the money is in return for modernisation and the local authorities which have already taken tough decisions on restructuring (West Lothian, for example, now runs on half the central support staff that we inherited) and those which have plans to (Glasgow being a fine example) will benefit most from this funding methodology.

This is exactly the reason why the results of the comprehensive spending review should not be seen in isolation but as part of a much broader package of measures.

Creating an educational environment suitable for the next century, not the last, is part of this package - modern science labs, IT provision the envy of the private sector, roofs which don't leak, windows that work, heating and lighting systems which can be turned on and off.

Alongside these physical improvements additional, targeted support through exciting initiatives such as early intervention, alternatives to exclusion and reducing the pupil-teacher ratio are successfully raising standards in schools, enabling higher targets to be set and met.

The broad-based distinctiveness of the Scottish comprehensive system is also being reinforced as local authorities move more and more towards integrated service provision, pulling (or should that be pooling?) resources from leisure and recreation, sports development, the arts, music and other cultural services into education, preparing to maximise after school-opportunities for pupils.

New Labour's vision for schools is clear and as we work towards the reality of an enriched education experience from nursery through to secondary, followed by further or higher education, employment or training the petty political point scoring will hopefully be replaced by constructive debate on how to take standards higher still!

Ross Martin Education convener Convention of Scottish Local Authorities

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