Chasing the votes

4th April 2003 at 01:00
SO they're off. The election battle commenced this week with the usual political sound and fury which may not signify very much for education.

Labour's mantra is closing the "opportunity gap", the Liberal Democrats focus on reductions in red tape, the SNP will wave its flagship policy of class size reductions, the Tories espouse "standards and choice".

The fury of the hustings is not a propitious climate to spot party political similarities. But schools should not hold their breath in anticipation of great changes. Although politicians always like to unveil "radical" plans, they also profess to want to leave teachers alone to get on with their job. They cannot do both.

The SNP and Labour believe cuts in class size are important; it is just a matter of where to apply them. The Tories want heads to have more power as the alternative to their failed opting-out policy of the past, as does Labour in the form of a new-found fondness for "flexibility" and the SNP in its ambition to "see schools free to make many of their own decisions". The Liberal Democrats have signalled their opposition to excessive assessment and centralised controls, something to which Labour has put its name in the coalition's response to the national debate. Everyone wants less indiscipline, more involved parents and higher standards.

There appears no great fondness for a restructuring agenda. Only the Tories appear to envisage upheaval in the form of more specialist schools and the "withering away" of the education authority. But even here, Labour-run Glasgow has established "learning communities" of pre-school, primary and secondary schools which the council's former director of education acknowledged would eventually lead to a diminution in the traditional role of the local authority.

Battle may have commenced but the outcome may be a case of plus ca change.

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