Peacock rules out selective schools

Neil Munro

The Scottish Executive has no intention of introducing selection by entry into secondary schools or killing off comprehensives, the Education Minister has made clear, despite a week of reports suggesting both.

The speculation followed the First Minister's speech to young party activists on Monday in which Jack McConnell said: "There is no space any longer for an ordinary comprehensive - because there is no such thing as an ordinary child."

This was later interpreted, following media briefings, as a Scottish rendition of the famous remark by Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's former spokesman, pronouncing the death of the "bog standard comprehensive".

There was some speculation that the First Minister's advisers may have used the term selection, suggesting that schools would be allowed to choose their pupils, when they should have been talking about setting and streaming - selecting pupils for courses.

The tone of Mr McConnell's speech was a railing against elitism and a reaffirmation of the comprehensive tradition which he described as "Scotland's educational strength".

He said the Education Minister would be unveiling "the most comprehensive modernisation programme in Scotland's secondary schools for a generation" - a move hinted at in his interview with the Children in Scotland magazine (TESS, August 20).

The package, expected to be launched in a couple of months' time, will in large measure be the Scottish Executive's response to the range of reviews undertaken over the past year, covering the curriculum, assessment, initial teacher education, age and stage exam restrictions, and guidance. But it is also expected to include "statements of intent" on key elements of secondary education, such as leadership.

Mr McConnell made it clear in his speech he expects a strong focus on the "problem years" of S1 and S2. "We won't tolerate seeing the achievement and motivation from primary ebbing away during a child's transition to adolescence," he said.

The First Minister also made clear that the modern comprehensive which emerges from these reforms should be "colourful, rich and diverse, not uniform or standard; it is ambitious for itself and for each and every child in its care and it believes in the potential of every child, not just the few".

Mr McConnell set his face against his political opponents - and indeed the circle around the Prime Minister - suggesting that "in their world, there have to be bad schools to have good schools".

He added: "Any notion that all our schools can and must excel is beyond them. Their world is one where excellence equals elitism. But the mark of excellence and achievement is not the failure of others. The status and achievement of some must no longer be judged by the misfortune and denied opportunity of others."

Many of Mr McConnell's comments about the importance of greater flexibility and choice for pupils, which would include better vocational options through allowing under-16s to attend college courses and relaxing the age and stage restrictions, simply reiterate previous announcements.

Among his proposals was the involvement of private sector interests which would bring their "inspiration, resources and success to help modernise our schools".

But the Education Minister again found himself having to clarify misconceptions, making it clear this did not mean city academies. "We want to work with the grain of Scottish education, piloting new ways of bringing about change in the system as a whole, rather than establishing new forms of school," Peter Peacock said.

The Hunter Foundation, backed by the tycoon Tom Hunter with whom the Executive is working closely on these proposals, has also made clear its opposition to city academies. Ewan Hunter, the foundation's chief executive, told The TES Scotland in July it would invest where it could bring about "systemic change".

The foundation rejects the creation of schools "which develop pockets of excellence that still perpetuate disadvantage for the rest".

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Neil Munro

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