DIRECTORS of education should do more to rebut ill-informed newspaper criticisms and promote the positive aspects of education, Shelagh Rae, president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, told the annual conference in Dunblane yesterday (Thursday).
Mrs Rae attacked coverage in both of the country's leading daily broadsheets. The Herald's reporting had become "more erratic, a significant loss at the present time", after the previous education correspondent, Barclay McBain, moved to another post.
And the Scotsman was accused of "reflecting issues from an English rather than a Scottish perspective". Its reporting was often "not fully informed".
Local authorities were "often portrayed as complacent or soft on teachers - an attention-grabbing headline which ignored the reality of the work councils do".
Mrs Rae said her "favourite of the year" was the editorial in the Scotsman which described her as complacent and "not living on the same planet as the editorial team". Her reply had been edited to omit the main points of her rebuttal and the challenge she had issued to see how in Scotland schools and councils were working together to improve standards.
The ADES president said that The TES Scotland was "effective and responsible" in reporting educational issues.
Dealing with the current controversy on Higher Still, Mrs Rae, director in Renfrewshire, said she had been "very angry" at "recent uninformed, and often non-attributable, comment attempting to place the blame upon school management and local authorities for implementation difficulties".
Directors of education had tried to highlight obstacles in a constructive way. "When the association advised the previous Government to delay implementation from August 1998 to 1999, we were told that there would be no difficulty in meeting target dates for dissemination of national material for a 1998 start. Why then in late 1998 is dissemination of support material still an issue?"
The Government's excellence fund by which finance is channelled into education projects had caused some concern, Mrs Rae said, over the detailed specifications required for projects and the "evidence of increased prescription and accountability". Such tension between national government's expectations and local government's rights was bound to come increasingly to the fore with the Scottish parliament.
Mrs Rae called on the unions to be more flexible over the Millennium Review and conditions of service to "break out of the strait-jacket of present arrangements" to fit the profession for the 21st century. She also warned directors against teacher bashing. "We are rooted in the teaching profession, and from that shared commitment and understanding are well placed to suggest solutions."