There is a place for those who see their life's work as pricking complacency and invading comfort zones. So the report this week by the Policy Institute, whatever one may think of its free market agenda, is to be welcomed. It has applied fresh thinking to the performance of schools and has a particularly good critique which flags up health warnings on the reliability of international surveys, often applauded in official circles when they bring good news and derided when they do not.
Apart from its wayward suggestion that the official benchmark of school success should be the number of S4 pupils getting five good grades or more, the report contains few surprises.
Missionaries like to portray themselves as lone voices fighting heroic battles. But the institute free marketeers need not feel lonely. It was no less a figure than Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector of education, who wrote recently that "there is considerable variation in performance across education authorities and some have much work to do to match the standards of the best". The inspectorate, however, gives praise where it is due.
It cannot be said often enough that exam results are an easy way of measuring school performance, but they are not much use on their own. As Richard Teese of the OECD team which is benchmarking school performance for the Scottish Executive, told The TESS this week (p4), it is not sufficient to explain away strengths and weaknesses by reference to parents or deprivation or whatever: the important thing is to look at the educational reasons for the strengths and weaknesses. We should be grateful that the executive has entrusted this task to the OECD and not the Policy Institute.