The Conservatives' burning questions on education - hot topics in bingo halls

10th February 2012 at 00:00
Will a Tory discussion paper yield relevant responses around pay, discipline and the curriculum? Unlikely

The treadmill of policy creation for political parties never stops birling round. With an election of some sort almost every year, the issue of education will always be raised, even though the prospective politicians may have little responsibility for it - and so the consideration of what to offer is ever present.

An example of this hubble-bubble fomenting away passed my desk this week - in the form of a refreshingly open discussion paper released by Tory education spokesperson Liz Smith.

There's much prompting of the reader to contribute; to take part and speak out. Were every party to take this approach, politics could be a more rewarding and attractive vocation. Smith's paper offers questions and options rather than dictates from the top. Some of the points raised will bring a smile to readers of this journal, a flavour of which I thought I would provide.

There are of course the predictable - but nevertheless necessary - questions on discipline that Conservatives are always keen to raise, such as "Do you believe that persistently disruptive pupils should be removed from mainstream education and sent to second chance centres?".

On curriculum the paper returns to the question of free choice or demanding a core, with "Do you believe it is right that there should be more focus on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) because there is an identified employment and economic need for these skills?"

I suspect my friends in music and the arts will have a strong opinion on that - where lies English, and is a foreign language not a practical technology?

The really interesting answers will come from these last three questions:

"Do you think that we should abandon comprehensive education beyond S2 so that pupils have far more choice over whether they pursue a technical, vocational or academically-focused curriculum and therefore have an opportunity to focus on areas where their best talents lie?"

"Should headteachers be subject to contract renewal every three years?", and even more provocatively,

"Should headteachers decide the pay scales of their staff or should we retain national pay scales?"

There is, however, a problem with this approach to policy development and it is this - the age and profile of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party is representative of grandparents, if not great-grandparents - it is Saga Max. Will the answers they give be relevant? Handing out these questions at the school gates might be a more productive exercise for the tireless Liz Smith.

Brian Monteith is a political commentator and former MSP.

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