Away with safe conformity;Leading Article;Opinion

17th September 1999 at 01:00
A CRITICISM of the Scottish education system is that it discourages diversity. Until recently, comprehensive schools bore as much similarity to one another as councillors could engender. Defensiveness founded in hostility to independent education and to political innovations such as self-governing schools led to safe uniformity. Today there is a more confident and receptive mood. The hatches are no longer battened down, though fresh air could still be allowed to circulate more freely.

One sign of the change has been enthusiasm for community schools embracing several social services under one roof. Another is local authority-inspired experiments such as Glasgow's with "learning communities" which bring together schools serving all ages in an area. Two pilots are under way, as an article in Scotland Plus describes.

Creating an administrative structure for a related group of nursery, primary and secondary schools should bring efficiency of resources and a reduction in headteacher time spent on bureaucratic responses. But as the promoters of the Glasgow initiative emphasise, better management is not the prime aim. Breaking down the artificial boundaries of a tripartite system is more important because that would allow, for example, the deployment of secondaries' language expertise in primary schools.

Curriculum continuity is a declared aim of government. It is expressed in the relationship of the recent three-to-five document with the 5-14 programme, and it pervades debate about better primary-secondary transition. In the longer term the categorisation of teachers as primary and secondary may go. But for now, Glasgow's "learning communities" and innovations elsewhere will test fresh ideas practically, while encouraging still more flowers to bloom.

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