Editor's comment

19th January 2007 at 00:00
Not to be outdone in the relentless media scrutiny of 1707 and all that, we should not let this week pass without noting the momentous event 300 years ago on Tuesday, when the then Scottish Parliament voted itself out of existence to join with the English Parliament (although the Act of Union did not actually come into force until May 1).

Arguably, this was not the most significant event in Scottish educational history: among more important milestones were the First Book of Discipline of 1560, aimed at providing religious instruction and literacy in every parish, and the 1872 Education Act, creating state education and making schooling compulsory for 5-13 year olds (in theory).

The Act of Union, however, had some indirect consequences which live on in some quarters. Principal among these was the sharpening of national identity as a kind of compensation for the loss of the parliament, and that included never-ending attempts to keep Scottish education distinctive from the system south of the border. Part of that distinctiveness was to assert continually the superiority of our schools. This may have idealised reality, but there was some truth in the popular image of the "lad o'

pairts", the boy from modest beginnings who was able to climb the educational ladder. Ironically, nowadays, the rose-tinted spectacles gazing enviously on Scottish education tend to be worn in England rather than Scotland.

Although the Scottish Parliament has "reconvened", a key lesson from the Act of Union is that political structures have a limited impact on education. The seismic shifts come in response to economic and social pressures. As industrialisation in the 19th century led to the education of the emerging urban working class, so globalisation is today's equivalent.

The proposal for skills and science academies are small manifestations of those economic realities.

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