Bring back that sense of adventure;Opinion;News amp; Opinion

5th November 1999 at 00:00
IS conflict of interest inevitable between MSPs and councils over who holds the reins in Scottish education? The new Parliament is slowly gearing up. The private view of some members, of varying political colours, is that Scotland hardly requires 32 authorities to deliver.

At the same time irritation with continuing patchy council performance is clearly underlined in the Education Bill with its inclusion of powers for council inspection. The likely demise of the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee, that failed vehicle for teachers' pay and conditions negotiations, could prove one more nail in the coffin of council control.

It is early days but the arguments for fully devolving budgetary control to schools - rather than a percentage of their running costs as at present - continue to be developed by various contributors to these columns. Here's a new one.

Lifelong learning is all about the big M - motivation. Ministerial hopes are pinned on creating a society where individual learning accounts are the norm, where folk turn to the national learning grid as readily as to Brookside, where they buy at the Asda checkout (along with those complicated ISAs) the next learning units for their individual progress file, and where the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework gets centrefold treatment from the tabloids.

Ministers in England (but is it different here?) have discovered through a new survey by the Basic Skills Agency that the proportion of 16 to 19-year-olds leaving school with no qualifications is rising. Nearly one in two (48 per cent) is saying that nothing would persuade them back through the learning portals.

Individual schools, given free rein and control of cash and assets, could hardly do a worse job of enthusing large sections of the adult population with the joys of staying with it. This might indeed be a ball with which schools could choose to run.

All is not gloom on the adult learning scene. Happily for some people, learning is positively addictive. To take part in the judging for the Scottish Qualification Authority's Lifelong Learning Awards as I have just done is a humbling experience. Some of the nominations are an inspiration and a credit to the tenacity of the human spirit in the face of disadvantage, dyslexia, deprivation.

Many left school with few or no qualifications. Like the chap from a travelling family whose early experiences of school included getting the strap daily for having holes in his shoes or a ragged jersey. He bunked off, of course, and had his first positive experience of education on a college welding course. After that, no holds barred.

Several nominations offer inspiring role models. Like the typist at 16, alias single mum at 21 and engineering graduate at 30. Or the spritely lady in her ninth decade newly qualified and ready to embark on a university degree.

One pensioner had battled fundless into the second year of an HND in the face of the Student Awards Agency deciding halfway through that after all pension equals income. (Doesn't this point up the inadequacy of the Cubie committee's remit into student funding - no reference to the benefit system?)

There is at least one community school, Balerno High in Edinburgh, which pioneered community education in such a way that profitable courses (such as Japanese for businessmen) and utilisation of school assets (such as party packages with swimming) have been used to underpin funding for non-profit-making courses and needy students.

Motivation flourishes in the community of such a school. All schools should be enabled to be more adventurous, and direct funding would help.

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