Nudge, nudge

MIKE RUSSELL likes to jump on bandwagons and give them a bit of a nudge. As the SNP's education spokesman and shadow minister, he has made a notable mark in the Scottish Parliament, even if some on his own benches are less enthusiastic and have jeopardised his Holyrood future by relegating him down the party favourites list. He could be on the way out if he is not first past the post in next May's elections. Yet he is an original thinker and a fearsome, talented interrogator - qualities that may not have made him as many friends as he needed.

In a lecture today (Friday), he has returned to key SNP issues, including vastly reduced class sizes, which remain the party's most distinct policy. It is also a long-standing aim of teacher unions. But Mr Russell's most imaginative proposal is surely to establish an easier vocational route for perhaps several thousand S3 and S4 pupils who are turned off the traditional Standard grade diet and cause difficulties in school. This is also a long-standing policy of Labour-run authorities, including Glasgow, and of the Scottish Executive under First Minister Jack McConnell, who has made it abundantly clear he supports curriculum innovation and flexibility.

Mr Russell is running with current practice in promoting a national vocational scheme, almost 10 years after the Howie committee was rubbished for recommending a twin-track approach to post-16 education. Now it is twin-tracking for pre-16 education. It may not please some who still see comprehensive education in hallowed terms and are reluctant to turn the clock back 30 years. Others will rejoice that some of the awkward squad are removed from classrooms and enticed with more appropriate courses.

One of the problems of comprehensive education is simply that it has never been comprehensive in subject-matter and has been dominated by relatively narrow bodies of largely academic knowledge which are ill-suited to many. School is not the only venue for learning, although it is convenient for society. Mr Russell should give this an extra nudge.

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