Good enough for Sam, but not for us;Opinion

13th August 1999 at 01:00
PITY IT wasn't a public holiday, but nevertheless July 1 was a great day. Could it all usher in a new look for a Holyrood bunch already beginning to look a little tarnished? They still have all to play for with the proposals in Improving our Schools, now out for consultation, but the consensual pap on offer generates about as much excitement as a damp dishcloth. Education Minister Sam Galbraith should hear warning bells when the unions offer a "cautious welcome".

The knowledge economy may be this Government's priority, but it appears ever more clear that Tony Blair is speaking for England. Here is the dividing of paths. David Blunkett's classroom revolution looks like stopping at Coldstream and Carlisle.

After all the electoral hype, folk really believed that MSPs do indeed have the time, space and opportunity to reflect on Scottish education. So have they read the latest Standards and Quality report from HMI? Do they realise that only 10per cent of Scottish primaries were classified as "very good" at the last count? Likewise 15 per cent of secondaries? That 20 per cent of primary and 15 per cent of secondary heads were found to have significant "weaknesses"?

If our new rulers could but lift their heads from their dreary troughs of insular complacency.

Consider this. Vast strides are being taken south of the border to tackle "failing schools". Estelle Morris, the education minister there, announced recently that monthly figures for schools entering "special measures" were dropping significantly. Now the Government has analysed the progress made among the first 250 schools deemed to be failing and has published the lessons learnt about turning round schools.

First, willingness to accept judgment and not go into denial. Second, effective strategies include the secondment of specialist consultants. (Edinburgh is to be congratulated on trailblazing this approach in Scotland.)

Other successful approaches include in-school involvement of parents and voluntary helpers, rewarding individual teachers for excellence and whole-school approaches to inappropriate behaviour.

Governors must "secure the services of a high-quality head; and monitor the progress of the action plan". No parental governors for Scotland of course. Instead we are to fall back on the discredited and failed system of local authorities having the final say over local targets.

Our new rulers might respond by denying that Scotland has "failing schools". They should take a crash course in understanding what all good teachers know: there are plenty of Scottish schools serving similar socio-economic areas which produce markedly different results.

Any minister less blinded by conformist ideology, or with a spark of concern for the facts would welcome a tiny leaven of diversity in the system. He would allow Scotland's two self-governing schools to continue as a touchstone for the state sector. A sliver of diversity and flexibility in the universal sameness of crepuscular communitarianism.

That he has not done so is particularly disgraceful in view of the success of Jordanhill, the top Scottish state school whose results put several independents in the shade. Jordanhill is self-evidently a beacon of academic excellence and massive parental popularity. Run by governors and bypassing local authority bumbledom, it will be the only directly-funded school left in Scotland.

Curiously, Sam Galbraith's own children attend Jordanhill (just as the Prime Minister's boys attend a famous London grant-aided school).

Poor old Scotland.

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