Onward to a new day with no false dawns

It was a grand day out at the Edinburgh Conference. The venue was the upmarket Edinburgh International Conference Centre and the event, a bit like myself, was sponsored by TES Scotland. The great and the good of the village that is Scottish education were present, and we were well looked after, with free pens and coloured identification badges.

Donald Dewar as ever came across as a sincere and dedicated politician, who believes deeply in the vision of education which he presents. He spoke with conviction of young people whose "expectation of failure lies heavily across their path". As he spoke, the media folk crawled around on the floor and shone lights in his eyes, but he stuck resolutely to his purpose.

At the interval, I was asked to speak to one of the press pack about reactions to Mr Dewar's presentation. The general drift of my response was to say that the Secretary of State's vision for education would be shared by teachers up and down the country, who equally believe in raising the expectations of young people.

Asked about Higher Still, I suggested that teachers accepted the principles of Higher Still, as did the Government, and that it was frustrating to learn of union disputes, when the problem was one of communication rather than of educational philosophy.

Imagine my astonishme nt to see this presented in The Herald the following day as "Head teacher warns of strike action". Clearly, a strike action alert made more exciting copy than a boring old plea for conciliation.

The afternoon brought the reincarnation of Frank Pignatelli, a former director of education, as apologist for private industry, which was, we are told, sitting poised to pour millions into education and training, if only the system would respond to their needs and if educational establishments were open all hours. It was entertaining, but a familiar scenario to those of us who have seen umpteen false dawns in the world of business links. The apocalyptic heralding of a new age is a privilege available only to those on the outside looking in. The rest of us soldier on, doing the best we can for the pupils and staff and, in the case of Holy Rood, working in close partnership with business, but without any pretensions to apotheosis.

It is a salutary experience to lift the head from time to time from the administrivia which preoccupies us to consider the wider implications of what we are about. The Edinburgh Conference was such an opportunity to rise above the flotsam and jetsam of our daily routines and to share with colleagues the directions that our service should be taking.

Edinburgh will soon become the home of the Scottish parliament, which will decide the policies and priorities for Scottish education in the new millennium. The Edinburgh Conference has the potential to become an annual occasion for helping to develop a national perspective.

It is clear that there is a broad consensus of philosophy shared by national and local government and by the vast majority of teachers. If these three constituencies could only concentrate on the common ground which unites them instead of scoring points, the beneficiaries would be the young people in our schools. Although a large proportion of teachers have voted for a boycott of Higher Still, industrial action born of frustration may not be in their best interests and the Government would also have a lot to lose.

Holy Rood and other schools look to the Holyrood parliament for some fresh ideas, more enlightened comment on matters educational, and above all, for teachers and schools to be valued and supported. We have to find a substitute for sabre-rattling and macho muscle-flexing. The next Edinburgh Conference will take place on November 5, 1999. By then, kids may be going around the streets shouting "A euro for the guy". We too must move on.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher of Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh

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