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Piggy in the middle

"There will always be a tension between what schools wish to pursue and national frameworks and priorities." Thus Graham Donaldson, depute senior chief inspector, to last week's meeting of the secondary headteachers (page six). The tension is not new but it could become more pronounced because two thrusts of Executive policy are in danger of coming into collision and it is teachers who would be the victims.

On one hand ministers, following in the wake of the McCrone report, are keen to emphasise professionalism. Jack McConnell told the General Teaching Council (page five): "We all know that to inspire confidence in others, we must first have confidence in ourselves . . . We are creating a dynamic culture in schools." Teachers must be open to new ideas and exercise their initiative. Admirable sentiments that will be shared by all except a minority of cynical clock-watchers.

But what happens when self-confidence and professional judgment meet external authority? The obstacle may be a headteacher who inists that the only show in town is his own. Educational authorities have not lost all of their compliance-seeking pen-pushers. And how will the enterprising teacher confront a visiting HMI?

The new Inspectorate of Education is pledged to re-emphasise the traditional aspects of its work, reporting on what it finds. But it works within national frameworks and priorities, as Mr Donaldson said. No doubt it likes to think these can recognise and accommodate individual enterprise and flair in schools. But how many teachers, facing an inspection, will chance their arm against the conventional wisdom that you tick all the right boxes and have mountains of paperwork at your elbow? In the best of all worlds accountability need not be the enemy of creativity. But common sense says it is safer to cover the ground than to be inspiring. So the technician teacher displaces the professional. We are then faced with the comfort blanket of conformity that is widely recognised as a weakness in Scottish education.

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