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Politicians want to rise above trench warfare

The two leading education backbenchers in the Scottish Parliament pledged "new styles of policy making" to a conference at Glasgow University last week.

Mary Mulligan, who chairs the Parliament's education, culture and sport committee, promised a consultative style. Her committee would not always be battling the Executive she said, but they would ensure it carried out policy.

John Swinney, convener of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee, also stressed the value of consultation - and the role of the committees in research, scrutiny and formulating legislation. Mr Swinney, the deputy leader of the SNP, said this would require committee members "to rise above the trench warfare of the political system in Scotland".

Sam Galbraith, the Children and Education Minister, said the education legislation would be "a litmus test for future bills". As a result of representations, ministers were reviewing their original proposals on school boards (as revealed in last week's TESS), pre-school provision and placing requests. Some 20,000 copies of the bill had already been issued.

Consultation, Mr Galbraith said, was the key to good legislation.

But he was challenged on "the rhetoric of the bill" by Valerie Friel, a lecturer in educational studies at Glasgow University. She questioned the "tighter relationship between the health of the economy and education". And she suggested there might not be sufficient resources to prevent the creation of "an underclass", especially in information technology.

Mr Galbraith said that educational expenditure had increased by 8 per cent this year. He believed there was no conflict in trying to produce "rounded, well-educated individuals" while also meeting the needs of industry.

Anne-Marie Fagan, head of John Ogilvie High in Blantyre, criticised the emphasis on setting targets as a "travesty" if measurement was all that mattered. "No other part of the public sector is so analysed, so publicly accountable and inspected," Mrs Fagan said.

The Minister replied that he could supply the mortality rates for surgeons and hospitals in a variety of medical procedures. Teachers and schools were no different. He said: "How do we know if we are pushing up standards if we are not measuring them?"

But Michael O'Neill, president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, declared: "We should have a broader definition of achievement beyond narrow targets. National priorities, locally implemented, should reflect achievement, not standards," he said.

Walter Humes, head of the department of educational studies at Glasgow University, criticised the inspectorate who relied too heavily on best practice and lacked "a wide framework of ideas". He also weighed into educational researchers, who needed "a major injection of intellectual courage if the darkest corners of Scottish education are to be brought into the light."

Dr Humes finally targeted teacher training as "an uninspiring introduction to education, and too tied to how schools are at present."

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