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McCrone 'offers no hope for future'

David Henderson finds differing views of the 21st century at the Association of Directors of Education conference in Dunblane

THE McCRONE Committee offered no more than a "pragmatic attempt at compromise" and failed to provide a serious blueprint for schools in the 21st century, Keir Bloomer, a key local authorities' adviser, told the annual conference of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland.

Mr Bloomer, outgoing president and now chief executive in Clackmannan, said: "It offered no serious analysis of the skills which schools will need in the coming years or whether they are likely to obtain them by the traditional methods of recruitment and subjective deployment of staff. It had nothing to say about the more flexible patterns of learning certain soon to be in common use which imply very different patterns of teacher activity and contract."

He went on: "It had no vision for the future, no critique of the past, no clear sense of purpose for the future. Other than that, it was OK." Mr Bloomer described the professor's recommendations as a compromise and a quest for minimum changes in conditions of service which employers could live with and "the maximum change which unions might accept in the unsubstantiated belief that there might be some overlap between the two".

The post-McCrone negotiations were vital in unlocking genuinely flexible working conditions. Without them, there would be questions against the ability of the traditional state sector to deliver. "Future governments may come to look beyond local authorities. Local authorities, indeed, may come to others than the in-house providers," he cautioned.

Mr Bloomer went on: "The Wall Street Journal recently characterised the American education systemas a cottage industry with primitive technology and amateur management, riddled with provider capture and ripe for take-over. I wonder if its gaze has strayed across the Atlantic."

The Scottish Qualifications Authority exam results fiasco "was the most spectacularly evident example of mismanagement in Scottish education that I can remember", he said. It was a typical example of top-down change.

Higher Still was an over-complex national programme with a needless proliferation of assessment objectives which placed unnecessary bureaucratic burdens on schools. It ended up with incomprehensible certificates. The "hapless implementers" took the rap while the "designers stood - at any rate for a while" poised to move on to the next project.

Mr Bloomer praised Jack McConnell, Education Minister, for his speedy and effective action on Higher Still and in separating the HMI roles of policy development and quality assurance.

The minister also deserved backing for slimming down the national priorities to key statements. "The role of national government is to set broad objectives. It is then for local authorities and schools to devise their own individual ways forward," he said.

Free of office, Mr Bloomer also challenged the "content-heavy" curriculum and schools' tendencies to deny young people opportunities to exercise responsibilities. Many felt powerless and alienated.

"I am increasingly persuaded that it is utterly unimportant whether environmental studies takes up x or y per cent of the pupil week. The world will contemplate with absolute indifference whether every mode is covered in S3. The traditional concerns of curriculum design are of truly cosmic inconsequentiality," he concluded.

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