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A phoney campaign;Leading Article;Opinion

EDUCATION WILL be the largest spending function of the parliament to be elected next week. It will bring the first major piece of legislation if Labour is in the driving seat. But no one has come up with a "big idea" to set hearts racing or alter voter intentions. As with other policy areas, a welter of conflicting figures and interpretations takes the place of real debate.

The Scottish Office set the tone by its practice of reissuing old news heated up and repeating promises several times. During the campaign the Liberal Democrats and SNP have added to the puzzlement by saying the Government's shortfalls can be remedied by so many thousand more teachers and extra millions for books and resources - commitments that are all properly costed, of course. The Conservatives have been the most adventuresome, shuffling off their old skin for the spring. But the drawback in thinking the unthinkable is that proposals to extend the powers of school boards are wanted by no one and removal of schools from local authorities would create a host of new problems.

It looks as if Labour will be able to continue where Brian Wilson and Helen Liddell left off. For teachers, judging by our snapshot in Falkirk (page four), that would be a mixed blessing. The authoritarian streak in Labour these days is unpopular. Teachers do not want the unmeasurable measured, nor decisions about their effectiveness to be based on dubious statistics. Yet more initiatives undertaken to give the impression of activity (a temptation for the parliament in its early days) would be anathema. On the other side of the coin, there should be a welcome for Labour's commitment to social inclusion and to plans such as those for new community schools.

As the election campaigns draws near to the end, excitement about the parliament remains, though largely unvoiced. Its educational agenda fails to inspire.

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