Lessons from the election

No doubt the sound of political sabres rattling in preparation for battle will have many teachers reaching for their guns. The battle in question is next May's Scottish general election (and, let's not forget, local councils going to the polls via the unaccustomed route of proportional representation). It means uncertainty in the air for some time.

If the pollsters are to be believed, the SNP looks like it will give Labour the closest run for its money in many a decade. Jack McConnell, the First Minister, acknowledged as much in his Fabian Society speech last Saturday when he referred to "the toughest election campaign in Scotland that any of us can remember" and added: "The SNP have a chance to take Scotland to the brink of independence." There's nothing like a Shakespearian firing up of the troops: "For King Jack, Scotland and St Andrew," to paraphrase.

Labour, as the party in power in Scotland for the past seven years, inevitably feels it will have to up the ante to show it has not run out of steam. So Mr McConnell's flying of the 3Rs flag, in his interview with the Daily Record last Friday, comes as little surprise. Being tough on standards will appeal to the Daily Mail agenda (perhaps he spoke to the wrong paper) and to the close-knit group of businessmen around Sir Tom Hunter with whom the First Minister is increasingly associated.

The renewed emphasis on the 3Rs will not quite appear in its final form the way it did in its tabloid treatment. Neither will the alleged antithesis between being able to read and count on one hand, and problem-solving on the other. An election campaign is not the place to flesh out fine detail or measured reform.

Mr McConnell has now signalled his determination, repeated in his parliamentary speech on Wednesday, to put learning in its widest sense at the heart of his new term in office - if he gets the chance. This is good news and bad for schools. The heat of battle can usefully illuminate difference, although it rarely provides illumination. Ideological warfare in the months to come will offer us some pointers, but schools and the rest of the learning community will simply have to sit tight until arms are laid to rest and the proclamations of victory are read out.

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