IDEAS HAVE to be more than good. They must come at the right time. Edinburgh has decided that a sixth-form college is not on, despite the incentive of satisfying Advanced Higher. Pooling scarce resources for an age-group whose classes are often formed in penny numbers must remain a possibility for the future, but for now altering the composition of the secondary school has proved a change too far. The all-through secondary, which has existed in much of Scotland for the best part of a century, is firmly embedded. We did not take to middle schools (except in Grangemouth) and sixth-form colleges may seem a similarly English concept.
Edinburgh would have been a good candidate for innovation - and not just because it is usually thought to be the most "English" of our cities. With a comparatively large number of potential Advanced Higher pupils and with specialist subject support on hand in its universities, it could have been a testing ground for collaboration between secondary schools and higher education.
But the existence of a large pool of able pupils also means that Edinburgh is not the best place to look beyond individual school provision. Enough secondaries expect to offer a good core of subjects, to co-operate in minority areas and to be able to liaise with first-year university teaching. They do not want their best senior pupils lured away. To a greater extent than elsewhere, a significant number of children from primary age on are creamed off by the independent sector, which will certainly want to teach to Advanced Higher level. The best performing local authority secondaries do not want to appear second best compared with the independent group.
Yet as the boundaries between schools, further education and universities are further eroded and as schools develop their own specialisms, the notion of adding more choice for young people may make sense. The sixth-form college would be an idea whose time has come.