The Scottish Executive is committed to autonomous schools and its approach is now strongly endorsed throughout Europe, according to Sam Galbraith. The Children and Education Minister returned at the weekend from an informal council of European education ministers in Tampere, Finland. Quality assurance policies were a key item on the agenda.
Speaking later to the TESS, Mr Galbraith stressed there was no support for any "pan-European" ambitions in the setting of targets and standards. EU ministers agreed these must remain a matter for each country. "That doesn't mean, of course, that we shouldn't share best practice or have common approaches," he added.
Mr Galbraith said Scotland was ahead of the game in having a system of school self-evaluation combined with external inspection: "Evaluation has got to be at school level so schools feel they own the targets, the quality measures and the assessment that goes with them. The role of governments must be to set the standards and framework, alongside rigorous external inspection. And school devolution is essential."
The Minister said his education bill aims to link the Executive's national strategy to local school autonomy by setting out the principles - and then placing education authorities under a legal obligation to put those principles into practice.
Mr Galbraith deflected suggestions that schools had yet to feel any ownership of national targets handed down centrally from the inspectorate. "You'll have to ask the schools about that. But those I have visited do seem to feel they have that ownership, and that is certainly our intention," he said. "At the same time there have to be national parameters because you can't have a free-for-all."
The minister would not be drawn on reservations often expressed publicly and privately by Chris Woodhead, the chief of the Ofsted school inspection service in England. He believes the publication of exam results and regular external inspection have done more than anything else to drive up standards.
Mr Galbraith said the discussion in Finland made clear that self-evaluation was crucial across Europe: "It's not seen as a soft option. And I trust the professionalism of teachers to deliver it."