Success document has lots still to learn

Sparkly Christmas lights and late-night shopping proved something of a counter-lure to the recent public debate (TESS, November 29) last week on that worthy yet mildly disappointing document Learning to Succeed in Scotland. This was an occasion ambitiously staged under the shadow of John Knox.

It is interesting to reflect what the chief author of The First Book of Discipline - (framework for the religious and educational organisation of Scotland in 1561) - would have made of the occasion. Certainly the author of the First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women did not rate seriously the education of half the population. Nor, I guess, would he have been other than puzzled by concepts of education links for the masses with the world of work; or indeed of education for enterprise.

Learning to Succeed highlights enterprise as a growing success story. The annual report of the Advisory Scottish Council for Education and Training Targets reflects this good news. For example, we learn that 60 per cent of schools are now involved in the Schools Enterprise Programme 5-14. Young Enterprise is found in 250 schools involving 4,300 pupils. More than 1, 250 teachers have undertaken in-service in enterprise - described as the highest penetration in Europe.

You, dear reader, naturally knew what ASCETT (pronounced asset) stands for before you read it here. You are therefore a better-informed person than the senior Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) official who at the meeting expressed his lack of conviction that national targets are something about which real school educators need to concern themselves.

He kept referring to ASCETT as something connected with technology. He thought that ASCETT was for relieving headaches, and anyway, we heard, the targets give him a headache.

His slightly alarming dictum on national targets was: "They have as much credibility with teachers as one of Stalin's five-year plans." Official EIS policy? Oh dear. Does the union really exist in such a sealed vacuum? Has the European Year of Lifelong Learning and the Royal Society for the Arts Campaign for Learning in Scotland passed by on the other side?

The larger question is of course where (or if) the school sector needs to have truck with the concept of lifelong learning. Or is it only a handful of union officials who believe that the school experience is enclosed, discrete, finite, compartmentalised?

The 13,000 adults now enjoying education opportunities in Scotland's schools would surely deny this. The many schools reaching out to their local parents and businesses, to the unemployed and retired, would surely deny this. So would the schools forging partnerships with community education, colleges, and yes, even making direct university links.

At Scottish Office level the targets are part of the fabric of school thinking. The Audit Unit report on examinations results in Scottish schools reflects this. So does Standard and Quality in Scottish schools. Both link the targets in a national approach to assessing pupils' achievements. Investors in People is also now a real target for some schools.

Make no mistake. The targets need friends in school - enthusiasts and activists. It is the usual story of national underachievement at the middle education levels. This year's ASCETT report shows slow progress towards target 2 for the year 2000: "by age 21, 70 per cent of young people to attain three Highers (A-C) or equivalent SVQs Level 3". Current achievement? 32 per cent. So there's quite a way to go.

Of course there's a huge message for colleges and employers here. But what about schools and the targets? Much is undoubtedly happening, and it would be wonderful to have the EIS onside too.

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