What a difference a year makes. This time last year, we were basking in the qualified approbation of Scottish schools by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It pronounced that, like the curate's egg, they were good in parts. This month, schools got a wake-up call from the TIMSS international survey of maths and science performance. It pronounced that they were not as good as they thought they were and, worse still, that English schools were better than we thought they were.
International comparisons of school performance, as we noted last week, conceal as much as they reveal; like all league tables, they are, at best, a snapshot, not the full picture. But they do act as a spur to investigation and a restraint on complacency.
The OECD and TIMSS studies alone should provide enough meat for an education agenda in 2009. But this agenda is not formed by education alone. The economic circumstances of our times are likely to exert a more formidable, if unwelcome, influence. If 2009 is supposed to be a year of economic grim times, the impact which that will have on education cannot be underestimated. Every time a hedge fund sneezes, we all catch a cold. This will affect budget calculations across the world, including those of Scottish education authorities.
So next year, we can confidently say, will be - at best - unpredictable. There will be the usual arguments about whether local councils can afford the SNP Government's ambitious commitments, and whether "London" is treating Scotland fairly. But this small change of political debate will seem small indeed in the current money markets, as the recession takes hold. It makes the wish for us all to have a happy Christmas and a prosperous new year more heartfelt than usual.