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Maths goes on message

It was, of course, just coincidence, wasn't it? A bullish report on how youngsters are doing in maths appears on the day that the Prime Minister announced a general election and said it should be fought on issues like education and health. The Inspectorate is independent of politicians, especially now it is an arm's-length agency, and Scottish education is not even an issue in an election for the Westminster Parliament.

Still, Scottish Labour MPs seeking re-election will be as pleased as the Education Minister that evidence of progress in primary schools is at last coming to the fore. HMI attributes the rise in attainment at P1-P4 to a variety of reasons difficult to unpick. Early intervention schemes and the appointment of classroom assistants are initiatives since the 1997 election. A reassertion of whole-class direct teaching aimed at embedding basic maths and instilling problem-solving skills goes back earlier and is unconnected wth political imperatives. Teachers have been happy to emphasise fundamental concepts, with the encouragement of the inspectorate and helped by a modicum of extra resources.

The application of commonsense strategies in the classroom is the key to bridging the gap between maths attainment here and that of many European and Far Eastern countries. A sound grasp in the early years promises improvement later on, though it is between P7 and S2 that the greatest challenge remains. Maybe an upbeat HMI report will appear on the eve of the election in 2005-2006.

The nuts and bolts of public services in Scotland are not part of the UK election campaign, though it is hard to see politicians avoiding taking credit and scoring points when the opportunity arises. But the debate between investment in services and the individual's freedom to spend their own money is as relevant in the three countries with devolved powers as in England.

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