It was a curious feature of the Conservative years that some national educational initiatives were anticipated by stoutly Labour Strathclyde. Devolved management of schools was an example. Now Glasgow, the largest authority carved out of the region, is signalling radical departures. Their fate will be carefully watched elsewhere.
The proposals, which have yet to go beyond the council leadership, are a response to statistics that regularly put Glasgow at the bottom of every league table of achievement. Attention is bound to focus on the plan to close eight secondary schools, and since other education authorities and the Government agree that large numbers of surplus places are an unaffordable luxury, there will be interest in whether the latest attempt to tackle the problem is any more successful than stalled efforts of the past.
But Glasgow's leaders want to make closures an almost incidental part of a wider plan to jack up secondary education. Not only would money be released but a smaller number of larger schools could offer a wider range of courses and challenges. The Higher Still programme in particular will benefit. Older pupils would be helped to go where the subjects they wanted were on offer. So parental (and pupil) requests may be made for new and welcome reasons.
The culture of underachievem ent has also to be tackled. The city's history of deprivation cannot be used to excuse failure. To do so is further to deprive young people, and to their credit Glasgow's leaders now refuse to fall back on excuses or to issue cries for extra resources which they know are impossible to answer. So if pupils cannot thrive with the present curriculum, it must be changed. In particular, Standard grade fails too many Glasgow youngsters. That is a startling thought only 20 years after the three levels of S grade courses were devised to match all abilities. But if Glasgow believes that, despite the efforts of the curriculum planners, Foundation level is too much of a watered down version of work for the abler, it had better be amended or supplemented.
Justification lies not just in providing something better but in tackling the learning problems of some pupils. That can be through early intervention reading projects which the city will share with other parts of the country. It can also be through looking at study methods, especially as pupils move from the sheltered and structured primary classroom to the threatening environment of umpteen new subjects in secondary. A group of schools are co-operating on an experimental initiative in S1 learning skills (page four).
Raising pupils' expectations goes hand in hand with applying research on how they think and learn. The modest experiment at St Gerard's in which pupils on the initiative were compared with a "control" group shows encouraging results. As a fuller picture emerges it will be scrutinised not just as a way of making Glasgow better but for national implications by a Government still struggling to interpret its own intentions about standards and achievement.