Michael Forsyth, the Scottish Secretary, launched his election clarion call for education last week and described Raising the Standard: a White Paper on Education and Skills Development in Scotland as "a good read".
Mr Forsyth was anxious to use the blue-covered document to assure the press that "we have not run out of ideas". Fresh proposals are, however, in a minority in the White Paper's 46 pages. Only 10 out of the 30 points for action in the schools section, for example, could be considered new. One observer described the document as "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue".
Among "old" initiatives repackaged are the pre-school vouchers, the #163;9 million basic skills programme, the #163;25 million cash help for authorities to improve school security over the next three years, the #163;3 million in grants to promote "alternatives to exclusion" over three years, increases in the assisted places scheme, the start of Higher Still in 1998, more setting in S1S2, and the policy commitment to the University of the Highlands and Islands.
"Something borrowed" might describe extended powers for the General Teaching Council, better management training for senior school staff, tougher appraisal, and value-added examination data - which all feature in Labour's Scottish education policy document Every Child is Special .
And if anything can be politically categorised as "something blue", the obvious candidates are entrenchment of opted-out schools, post-school skills vouchers, assisted places and devolved school management, as well as the abolition of collective pay bargaining.
Major features ofthe white paper:
The "well-established" testing system in primary schools breaks down when pupils move into secondary. "As a result parents can no longer count on receiving the type of information on their child's progress that they have come to expect."
The Government therefore proposes to make regulations requiring education authorities to arrange tests in the first two years, to be independently administered and marked. Tests will be confined "in the first instance" to reading, writing and maths. A consultation paper on these proposals will be separately issued.
The Secretary of State expects to receive the Inspectorate's report on S1S2 by the summer. "Too many young people fail at these stages to sustain the progress they have demonstrated during the later stages of their primary career," the White Paper states. "The reasons are complex, but require urgent investigation and action."
Information on the value added by secondary schools as pupils move from Standard grade to Higher, already available internally to schools, will be published for the current session along with the annual exam tables. A version will also be produced for school boards and parents.
The joint Scottish Office study with the education authorities, investigating the feasibility of developing value-added measures of pupil performance in primary schools, will be continued and extended to the early secondary years.
Standards and quality reports, which pinpoint schools' strengths and weaknesses, will be published every three years.
Devolved powers to schools should be extended. Detailed proposals will be published suggesting that responsibility for more than 90 per cent of school-level budgets should pass to schools instead of 80 per cent. Schools may also take over a greater range of spending items. "In the absence of strong reasons for retaining responsibility centrally, schools should have direct control over all resources."
Although self-governing schools have great financial flexibility, education authorities retain statutory control for central services such as home-school transport, clothing and other hardship grants, and the extra support for recorded special needs pupils.
The Government plans to offer these schools the option of running these services themselves, although it will be up to them whether they do so or not.
The announcement of a doubling of the scheme from 3, 500 to 6,000 places a year has already been announced. The Scottish Office now aims to include free-standing independent primary schools as well as reserving a small quota of pupils requiring boarding places.
Assisted places may also be offered to pupils with talents in particular subjects to attend independent schools specialising in those subjects. Ministers are also to consider whether education authorities should set up specialist units in such areas as languages and sport, along the lines of the specialist council-run music and dance units in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Consultation will precede detailed plans.
The powers of HMI will be extended to allow them to inspect the quality assurance systems established by education authorities.
The inspectorate is also being asked to introduce a grading system to identify highly effective schools. This will give "excellent school awards" to schools judged to have an outstanding record following an inspection.
The White Paper outlines a four-pronged drive to improve standards of teaching. Draft regulations requiring teachers to be appraised will be introduced because of the "disappointingly low" implementation of the voluntary system. "The Government considers this is an issue of significant concern and is determined now to secure the rapid adoption of appraisal."
Second, teachers' pay and conditions will no longer be bartered through national negotiations but independently judged by a pay review body, which will be asked to consider the early introduction of performance pay.
The Government believes that "the majority of the teacher unions", including the two headteache r bodies, have expressed dissatisfaction with the existing bargaining machinery. "A more flexible structure for pay and conditions is now a pressing priority, " the document states.
Third, the management training for headteachers programme will be extended so that all teachers aspiring to senior promoted posts in schools will have to undergo training in management competences.
Fourth, the powers of the General Teaching Council will be extended so that "those relatively few teachers who may be failing to meet even the basic standards of professional competence" can be struck from the register in the same way as those committing disciplinary offences.
The council will have a new statutory role to set standards for professional development, including appraisal.
A good practice guide called Close to the Mark, providing examples of what has worked for schools in promoting attendance, is being prepared along with materials for parents. A series of seminars and workshops will promote the new materials.
There will be a new "world of work initiative" to bring more work-related learning into the secondary curriculum, one aim of which will be "more explicit recognition" that core skills should be directly related to preparing young people for work. The third and fourth-year curriculum guidelines will be reviewed as will the effectiveness of work experience for all pupils. More teacher placements in industry are to be encouraged.
Ministers are also considering on a UK basis the recommendations of a steering group for the relaunch of the National Record of Achievement, a profile of students' progress throughout school and beyond which has yet to make a full impact. The relaunch will aim to embed the process of compiling the record earlier in schools.
Funding of in-service training for special needs will be increased. The Government says it is committed to the policy of integrating special needs children into mainstream classes, but parents will be given further information to inform their choices through a revised edition of the Parents' Guide to Special Education Needs.