Editor's comment

4th December 2009 at 00:00

A week is a long time in politics, and perhaps slightly longer in education. No sooner had Fiona Hyslop set about local authorities for their failure to reduce class sizes and maintain teacher numbers, than she was reshuffled. But she does not leave behind the "hapless" record her opponents would have people believe. Ms Hyslop had command of her brief, if not always of her policies, and delivered where she could - the tribute paid to her by Scotland's Colleges is evidence of the regard in which she was held in some quarters.

But as soon she became "the story", her position became untenable. She was demoted to Culture Minister rather than sacked, because that would have been an admission of policy failure and First Minister Alex Salmond, responsible for some of the manifesto commitments with which Ms Hyslop was saddled, wasn't having that.

In her place comes one of the rottweilers of Scottish politics, Michael Russell. Deckchairs and "Titanic" come to mind, but that is stretching it and belittles Mr Russell's many estimable qualities. Nonetheless, reshuffles are often a cosmetic papering over of political cracks. Mr Russell, no matter how often he promises to "listen", faces the same problem as his predecessor: how can he implement the Government's key education policies when it has given up the levers of power, and the ring- fenced funding of education that went with them, in favour of the concordat which is about "local solutions for local problems"?

On the class sizes issue, Mr Russell has form. It was he, when Shadow Education Secretary, who settled on the limit of 18 pupils in early primary as an SNP pledge; he remains passionately committed, despite sparse evidence of its effectiveness. The new minister has inherited a class sizes review and perhaps that will provide him with a fig leaf to finesse the policy. But he has a range of other considerable challenges and those with the interests of Scottish education at heart must at least wish him well.

Neil Munro, editor of the year (business and professional magazine).

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