THERE IS "an identity of purpose" between the Government, teachers and parents over education policy, Donald Dewar, the Secretary of State, said last week.
Speaking at the second Edinburgh conference run by the city council and The TES Scotland, Mr Dewar made it clear that, despite the squalls over target-setting and Higher Still, "I don't want confrontation with teachers, nor do I seek any".
The Secretary of State's declaration prompted Bill Guthrie, president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, to remark that, despite an anticipation of policy changes after the general election, teachers saw only "a seamless political transition".
Mr Dewar said many teachers approved of what the Government was doing. "But I acknowledge that change can be difficult and there is perhaps a need to explain changes more fully so people don't feel threatened."
He "had not met a single teacher" who was at odds with the need to measure how well their school was doing or thought the information should not be used to help drive up standards. He accepted, however, that there were "technical arguments about the machinery (for target-setting)".
The Scottish Secretary also reiterated his determination to press on with Higher Still from next August. He believed there was "common ground" with the Educational Institute of Scotland that the programme should go ahead. An extra Pounds 24 million has been found to implement it, and a liaison group involving the unions would oversee its introduction.
Mr Dewar's speech reflected the conference theme of how schools should prepare pupils for their lives as citizens. He wove together a range of policies as evidence the Government was helping to lay the foundations - from early intervention to new community schools. But he warned: "The lives of many children continue to be played out in circumstances of great disadvantage and the expectation of failure lies heavily across their path."
Mr Dewar said it was "enormously important that schools should broaden pupils' horizons". But he added: "I tiptoe with very considerable diffidence in asking schools to teach political and moral issues."
Leader, page 14