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Skeletons in the closet

The secrets of 30 years ago unearthed at this time each year make fascinating reading. Who could have predicted that a Conservative government in the early 1970s would preside over the demise of some of Scotland's best-known selective schools such as Allan Glen's in Glasgow (which was eventually axed) and The Royal High in Edinburgh (which survived, albeit under the local authority)?

It is a salutary reminder, as ministers on both sides of the border push through contentious legislation from top-up fees to tackling anti-social behaviour, that prized policies can have unintended consequences. In the case of the Heath government of 30 years ago, it was the determination of Scottish Office ministers to preserve the purity of their mantra of "freedom for local authorities to decide" which led to the offensive against selective schools. At least the party is consistent: "local choice" remains its war cry.

The records also remind us that the Tories are not always the only conservatives in education. We note the fierce opposition put up by the Educational Institute of Scotland in the autumn of 1973 against the banning of corporal punishment. In time-honoured fashion, the union argued that a ban was "desirable" but it would decide when it was "suitable," thank you very much. Like the Heath government, the EIS also had a run-in with dissenting local authorities. But, unlike the government, it did not believe the authorities knew best.

Verily, plus ca change.

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