Last week we described the curricular flexibility that is beginning to break down the monolith of comprehensive secondary education. The Secretary of State has now offered further scope for schools to create a distinctive identity. His consultative paper (page one) suggests that specialist provision might be extended beyond music and dance.
Young people gifted in all the arts would benefit from early identification. The travails of our national sports teams have frequently raised questions about basic skills in young players and whether the professional clubs are the only, or best way to nurture talent. The Secretary of State also raises the possibility of specialising in science and technology - rebirth of an idea once given expression in schools such as Glasgow's Allan Glen's.
The existing specialist units at Broughton High, Douglas Academy and Knightswood Secondary struggle to attract pupils from outwith their host authorities because other councils are reluctant to pay, especially if boarding is necessary. Yet the model of locating a specialism within a comprehensive school should be preserved. It allows the "special'' pupils to maintain a normal curriculum while spending many hours on their art form. It enriches the life of the "host'' school. One alternative suggested in the consultative paper - creating a network of tutors - would lose many benefits, not least a performing space and an events programme.
Nurturing rare talent comes at a cost. The Government is devoting Pounds 14 million, though that may not be enough to tempt local authorities to bid for a specialist facility. But there is also a cost to pupils and their families. In a country like Scotland concentrating resources in a handful of centres is inevitable, forcing some pupils to travel long distances or live away from home. All pupils commit themselves to years of rigorous study. They deserve the spotlight often reserved for their troubled and troublesome peers.
Another reason for celebration is the recognition of aspiration. No longer should young people be cajoled into uniformity. The Scottish tradition of decrying flair ("I kent his faither") is harmful. It, instead of talents, should be buried.