Easing up after Liddell;Letter

30th April 1999 at 01:00
WHEN A new minister was appointed to the Scottish Office Education and Industry Department after the 1992 election, the insupportable policy on national testing of primary pupils was thrown out and a more acceptable form of testing introduced. The political impasse erected because of a previous minister's amour propre could safely be dismantled once he was away.

That change of policy happened although the same party continued in office after the election. Let us look ahead to the end of next week.

It seems that the same party will take the lead in the new Scottish government as has been running the Scottish Office. But the minister will not be Helen Liddell.

So her successor in charge of education, enjoying for the first time status as a senior minister (since the education portfolio will be a main one in the new Executive) will have the opportunity to review and dispense with one of Mrs Liddell's unsuccessful initiatives.

I refer to the school-by-school setting of targets. For the reasons presented on these pages by contributors like Michael Davenport last week, target-setting as presently constructed will not work effectively and fairly. Two groups of professionals condemn it - statisticians and teachers.

The consequence of having a derided set of targets is that target- setting itself is besmirched. Most schools have long set themselves targets, especially in secondary where external exams form a benchmark.

But if all target-setting is tarred with the Government's brush, its value in raising standards, to which every teacher aspires, will disappear.

All politicians like to get off to a good start. A new education minister has an easy way immediately to win friends in the teaching profession and to help schools address real challenges. If HMI have invested professional capital in an unworkable target-setting system, too bad. A new minister should also start by showing who is boss.

Stephen Grant Maryhill Glasgow

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