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Setting the trends

WE are in for a great debate on education, or something similar, very soon. A Green Paper is promised to give it shape. The paper will be constructed around the five national priorities for education which Jack McConnell, the Education Minister, launched last November. The what? Well, that bemused response seemed to sum up the general lack of awareness on Monday from the audience at a conference in Edinburgh (page three). They were not perhaps the great and the good but they were senior enough to be expected to keep abreast of events. Mr McConnell has some way to go to ensure his great debate is a fully inclusive one.

The national priorities cover a very full range from the skills required of the teacher to the skills expected of the pupil. But, while they are comprehensive, they also have the great advantage of being succinct. They are not couched in centralist terms, a feature which no less a critic than Keir Bloomer, former director of education in Clackmannanshire, praised when he described the priorities last November as representing "the death of the destructive compliance agenda which has been so damaging to Scottish education over the past 20 years". The priorities are, however, statutory.

But there is little doubt that Mr McConnell wants to move away from the narrow, imposed, target-driven measurements of progress, which carry little conviction in the profession. "Trends not targets" seems to be the new mantra. The priorities set the framework and the objectives but, the Minister is keen to point out, how schools get there is up to them.

This new mood music, however, has not quite reached orchestral proportions. The licence to teachers and pupils to "innovate and adapt" or even to learn to take risks - encouraging "creativity and ambition" is, after all, part of the fifth national priority - has to sit alongside parental and teacher expectations that no risks should be taken with pupils' education. Teachers also have to be convinced that their creativity and innovation are not going to be undermined by any "compliance agenda" from the inspectorate. Let the debate commence.

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