An equal opportunity

2nd September 2005 at 01:00
It is always difficult to know when a columnist such as Marj Adams refers anonymously to "so-called experts" whether it would be arrogant to assume that she might be referring to any particular person ("Have a good fiddle with streaming", TESS last week).

Since I did write recently about streaming, could I be one of those who "delivered lightweight commentary with predictably politically correct musings on the evils of streaming"?

Well, no matter. I am opposed to streaming and I am happy to debate it in the current educational context. However, I do think that, when someone has the privilege of a regular column in The TES Scotland, they must have some responsibility to do more than make sweeping and ill-informed comments about streaming, egalitarianism, universities, illiterate school leavers, Latin, comprehensive schools and fiddling! As a philosopher, surely Marj appreciates the value of evidence?

There is no evidence that streaming, per se, improves attainment for all pupils. Nor is there evidence that a selective system achieves better results for all of its pupils than the comprehensive system.

Latin is another issue, and the only one on which Marj and I would agree.

It should be available to every pupil in Scotland; not compulsory, just available.

Which brings us to fiddling. At a selective school in the 1960s, I was told I was tone deaf (not a real condition, as I now know) and got no instrumental tuition. In the 1990s at primary and then at a comprehensive secondary school, my son Chris learned clarinet, saxophone, piano and guitar.

The point which Marj misses is that, in ensuring everyone gets equal opportunity to learn, the goal is not to make them all the same. Indeed, the comprehensive ideal is about celebrating difference, not trying to homogenise people in sets or streams.

Professor Brian Boyd Faculty of Education University of Strathclyde

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