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No wind-up from the Windy City

It is a safe bet to assume that few staffrooms will have thrilled to the latest lecture in the Fraser of Allander series, on the subject of skill policies for Scotland delivered by the Nobel prizewinning economist Professor James Heckman from Chicago University. They should not have been put off by his title - nor by any comfort to be taken from the fact that he may be thought of as a remote academic.

Academic discourse originating in distant places has a habit of paying us a visit - just think of the Thatcherite governments' attachment to the Milton Friedman school of economics. As Baroness Thatcher herself demonstrated, academics also produce disciples.

So we should not lightly dismiss the response by that influential Labour thinker and politician Wendy Alexander to Professor Heckman's key theme on the importance of redirecting public investment in education to the early years. As she observed, this could mean in practice switching resources from student and tuition subsidies since these interventions come too late to improve the lot of those disadvantaged at earlier stages. Now the staffrooms should be listening.

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