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A recipe for a messy jam sarnie;Opinion

Scotland appears to have embarked with gusto on the primrose path to separatism. Indeed, in such constitutionally destabilising times, what might counteract the growing confidence of the independence brigade? Probably only some future ad hoc coalition from those political groupings professing support for the Union and a more federal structure.

It is evident that Scotland's New Tories have a mountain to climb. But they should not be underestimated, not least because of the huge opportunity readily available to them in the centre ground of Scottish politics. There are apparently no other contenders for that space. Meantime Scottish New Labour seem to be a tender flower, more prone to wilt than show colour in the bud.

With a caretaker Education Minister and a Secretary of State quite devoid of the single minded passion of his English counterpart, there is a curious stop-go quality about Scotland's current progress towards raising standards.

Vision in Scottish education is like a thistle at risk of mastication and extinction by the political donkeys in the pasture. Nowhere is this more obvious than with the Government's proposal to group Scottish schools according to social and economic indicators - setting targets for Standard grades and Highers "appropriate" to the average intake.

This proposal was always likely to end in tears. Major grief now hovers on the horizon. Why?

First, the notion that children's futures should be determined in such a random fashion is patronising. It is a betrayal of opportunity for all to expect less of the deprived and of the schools which educate them. It would be an educational disaster and a retrograde step of the first magnitude.

What price now the lad or lass o'pairts in the brave new Scotland? With assisted places abolished, are they really condemned to schools categorised by Government and council as second or third rank?

The whole concept entrenches further the divisive and destructive habit of low expectations for the least advantaged.

Second, the proposal that provisional targets for school groupings should not be released to parents is a contemptuous snub.

Such disdain towards parents is barely concealed in the words of the union spokesman who said: "Benchmarking is a very complex process. I would not like to be explaining it to a group of parents." So that's parents in their place, a hefty shove in the direction of where some would have them return - outside the school gate.

What a recipe for a messy jam sandwich! Is it really possible that "councils and teachers" can keep proposed targets under wraps for eight weeks while they cogitate an appeal? Anyone heard of leaks? Documents left by the photocopier? Teachers who are parents?

The press manifestly have ways of getting there. We shall shortly expect a full and lively debate on the merits of this or that target for that or this school. The idea that this debate will happen in schools without parental involvement is not only insulting, it is absurd.

This is a show which will run and run. Wait for the autumn storms when Government brings forward target proposals for 5 - 14. Can we expect differentiated targets here, too? A second or third track stretching from 5 to 18 for second or third class children?

This is manifestly not the Blunkett and New Labour way south of the border. Hence the yawning hole in the Scottish political centre ground.

Politicians must speak up for the children on free school meals and denounce these proposals for what they are: a road to gross inequality, massively patronising and socially and economically excluding.

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