THE spread of specialist schools, now nine in all, is one of the encouraging aspects of Scottish education. No longer is it possible to level the accusation that comprehensive schools imply uniformity. In treating all children alike - the basis for the comprehensive model - schools are gradually being equipped to recognise and nurture special talents.
As long as specialist education is open to all who show talent, whatever their background and circumstances, the principle of free access is preserved. No country dependent on the skills of its people rather than on natural resources can afford to leave its potential Miltons mute and inglorious. Developing talents in the arts and sport goes hand in hand with making Scotland a knowledge-based economy.
Music schools have to be available in several parts of the country and now thee is to be provision in Fife, Aberdeen and the west Highlands as well as Edinburgh and East Dunbartonshire. In an imaginative project launched in Kilmarnock this week, language tuition to a high level will be available for pupils in three authorities thanks to distance learning technology. The same principle could be applied to other parts of the curriculum, like art and design.
Defenders of self-governing schools, which the education Bill is committed to abolish, ask what the difference is between specialist schools and others which attract a viable roll (like St Mary's primary in Dunblane). Each group is meeting a need and developing individual pupils. Yet the difference is clear. Specialist schools are an extension of public education. "Self-government" is best defined through the other designation of "opting out".