Editor's comment

24th April 2009 at 01:00

Hard-pressed teachers might be forgiven for wondering how their experience of constant change squares with this week's revelation that Scottish education has been standing still for the past 10 years (p1). It has not, of course, been a period of educational inactivity but the uncomfortable question is: has all the activity been to any productive purpose?

Critics of the latest studies will point out, as they always have, that Scotland should not be obsessed about comparing itself with England. But as both McLaren and Paterson suggest, it is the most valid of all international comparisons because the two countries have so much in common. The result does not flatter us. What is clear is that the performance of England's schools on a range of indices has been getting better, while Scotland's has stagnated at best. Admittedly, England had more headroom for improvement from a lower base.

But Scottish taxpayers have a right to ask what bang they are getting for a buck that is 25 per cent above public spending levels in England. Governments tend to respond by saying they are sorting things out with their latest reform, whether it be 5-14 under the pre-devolution Conservatives or A Curriculum for Excellence now.

This starts to wear a bit thin. The answer, for the school sector at least, must be to continue pursuing the quality teaching that the best schools already do - and spreading the message about what works. The impact of disadvantage is a challenge too far for many, and we do not seem to have the evidence which allows us to assert what difference that makes on the performance of Scottish and English pupils. But even the fiercest critics of a Scottish Parliament which has no economic powers would hardly expect it to have swept away, in its first 10 years, the complex of economic and social factors which are at the heart of the difficulties confronting many schools in raising the bar for their pupils.

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