As the new session begins next week, Scottish schools will come under scrutiny as rarely before. We speak not of A Curriculum for Excellence, but of swine flu. The earlier summer closure of Scottish schools, compared to those in England, was frequently cited in July as a reason for the reduced spread of the disease north of the border. It would be foolish for schools not to be on alert: 60 per cent of those who had been infected in the UK by mid-July were under 18. Equally however, there should be no alarmist nonsense since children have lives outside school and that impacts on their health as well as their learning. In this matter, we should take our lead from Corporal Jones, not Private Frazer.
Health Minister Nicola Sturgeon is right nonetheless to consider workable alternatives if schools have to close their doors to pupils, as we reveal this week (p1). It may come as a relief to hard-pressed Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop to find that another Cabinet colleague will have to answer to the court of teacher opinion, but it is hard to see how the comparison will flatter Ms Hyslop. On a wide front - the new curriculum, assessment reform, education budgets, teaching jobs, class sizes, the school building programme, physical exercise, nursery education - she faces formidable, and perhaps intractable, problems that few of her predecessors have had to tackle in combination.
Her performance is being judged when she is effectively powerless as a result of the concordat with local authorities, which she willingly entered into, and the Government's lack of a parliamentary majority, which she can do nothing about (short of a by-election miracle). Politics is indeed a rough old trade - meanwhile, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse are standing by.