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Ministers want to 'release the experience'

David Henderson reports from the national conference on the reform programme for schools

A surprisingly high figure of one in three of those involved in education, mostly in schools, believes ministers are not prescriptive enough in setting the agenda, according to the results of an interactive session.

In contrast, nearly 60 per cent want more freedom and believe Peter Peacock, Education Minister, backed by officials in the Scottish Executive, is too directive.

Mr Peacock told them he is prepared to loosen the centralist grip and talked up teachers as "the experts in education". He spoke of "trust and respect for the teaching profession", adding: "We want to release that expertise more than we have done in the past."

The reforms spelt out in the multifaceted Ambitious, Excellent Schools programme would hand schools more space and freedom to deliver improvements in more flexible ways.

Mr Peacock said curriculum reforms would "remove clutter and too much prescriptive guidance in primary schools". Guidance had pressured teachers to teach across too much territory at the expense of depth.

He added: "By removing duplication within and throughout the curriculum, and by getting smarter at defining outcomes, more time and space can be found in the curriculum."

Turning to a favourite theme, Mr Peacock reasserted his belief that the assessment and exam system in secondaries is the dominant force at the expense of the curriculum. MSPs' report on pupil motivation, published last week, had highlighted the problem and called for practical steps to lighten the assessment load in upper secondary.

"I will certainly be looking closely at this in addressing the relationship between Standard grade and our other National Qualifications. Over the coming months, I want to see the debate about the load and nature of assessment intensify," Mr Peacock said.

He further rebutted suggestions that a target of 53,000 teachers would not be met by next year, emphasising "the truly remarkable" expansion of student teacher numbers.

"They are quite literally bulging at the seams with extra teachers in training. Since 2003, the number of probationers has risen from almost 2,000 to almost 3,000 in 2005, rising to 3,700 in 2006," Mr Peacock said.

The current teaching force stands at 52,179, up more than 1,000 since 2003.

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