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McConnell pledges an end to 'corrosive atmosphere'

Jack McConnell has given further details of plans to refine performance measures for schools, including exam targets. The plans were revealed in his recent interview with The TES Scotland.

Continuing his teacher-friendly offensive, the Education Minister told a conference in Glasgow that qualitative as well as quantitative indicators are needed of how schools are performing, but he pledged to avoid imposing new burdens on staff.

Mr McConnell acknowledged "an understandable concern that the performance measures will in effect result in a series of misplaced targets which will make the national priorities more centrally prescriptive than their terms suggest". Changes must not "work against improvement".

The conference, organised by the Scottish Local Government Unit, heard Mr McConnell deliver a robust assessment of the pay and conditions deal and express high hopes for the future. "There has been a corrosive atmosphere of distrust and low morale in the teaching profession for too long," he said. "Bitter disputes were the result of years of misplaced Government intervention and policies designed to suit political dogma fuelled that atmosphere.

"If we want to raise standards in the classroom then investing in teachers is non-negotiable. The agreement is not simply a bonus for teachers. It is a lasting investment which benefits everyone."

Mr McConnell stressed the relationship between the classroom teacher and pupils. "Any initiatives which distract from or obstruct that focus will change," he said.

He added: "We must deliver on the framework for improvement (announced last year and expected to be in place within 18 months). But we must ensure that in implementing that framework policies are focused in delivering in the classroom, and responsibility for implementation lies with - and is welcomed by - those who work in the sysem day by day."

Danny McCafferty, the local authorities' education spokesman, called on teachers to approach the future "in a new spirit of trust, revitalisation and clear commitment to raising standards". They had to deliver the "one vote which will make the vision for education in Scotland a reality and not an elusive dream".

Mr McCafferty also challenged school boards to prove they are the most effective way of involving parents. "Fresh consideration should be given to the whole concept of parental involvement. There has to be a re-look at how parents can become involved in a participative rather than a representative way. Each child is an individual and parents are no less individual in their views," he said.

Keir Bloomer, chief executive in Clackmannanshire, said he was more optimistic than he had been in the past 30 years because "Scottish education has stopped congratulating itself and started thinking".

Linda Croxford, senior research fellow at the Centre for Educational Sociology at Edinburgh University, highlighted the problems in obtaining data for evaluation of school performance and the significance of social class on attainment.

"If local authorities are to fulfil their responsibility (under the Standards in Schools Scotland Act) they need adequate data, especially with regard to prior attainment, and in order to evaluate social inequality they need basic indicators such as ethnic origin and socio-economic status," Dr Croxford said.

Ken Goodwin, headteacher of Shawlands Academy, Glasgow, which has a large proportion of its roll from ethnic minorities, deplored the effects of racism on attainment. "Institutional racism is thriving and there is nothing to challenge that in policy documents. The fact that whole swathes of society are disadvantaged is a scandal and must be addressed," Mr Goodwin said.

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