The hour approaches at Holyrood;Opinion

29th January 1999 at 00:00
THE LARGEST postbag I have ever received from readers of this column was undoubtedly the response to my offer of the poem Kate o'Shanter (every thinking woman's response to the laddish behaviour of Tam of that ilk) in return for a donation to the SSPCA in memory of Meg, Tam's noble and long-suffering beast.

My second largest mailbag ever has to be the response to the recent suggestion that after Holyrood grinds into action the time will be ripe and public opinion ready for a realignment of the educational policy-making role of local authorities. Clearly vested interests abound, and the coming debate will be lively.

A confident can-do culture celebrates potential and achievement. But the major failure of council mediation during the regional years was the wide substitution - particularly in Scotland's more deprived schools - of bureaucratic paternalism and egalitarian ethos.

In parallel marched the depression of professional initiative and the failure to create structures which promoted self-confidence and job satisfaction among teachers. The profession will therefore have a particular interest in examining the small print of the still veiled education intentions of the rival parties - and indeed of the possible combinations of political groupings.

Labour currently appears beleaguered. It is said that no decision has been taken as to whether its coming campaign will rise above the level of Nat-bashing. Of course, one of the most interesting aspects of current politics is the power struggle for the soul of Scottish Labour.

The Government has had a generally creative educational year, matched nevertheless by chequered times at the ballot box. Here is continuing evidence that the public feels uneasy about internal dissensions in governments and political parties. John Major would sympathise.

A Blunkett-type Labour manifesto might actually prove undeliverable here. For this reason it would be valuable if the beleaguered Scottish Conservatives gain enough seats to form the nucleus of working opposition.

Failing that, look out for Holyrood's black hole where moderate centre-right thinking ought to be.

The teaching profession now has a real fin de si cle opportunity to demand an educational vision for Scotland which lifts its eye above and beyond party political point-scoring. Ritual platitudes and the badmouthings of the hustings do not inspire.

As with pupils, every teacher needs to feel successful and valued. Scotland must wave goodbye to low expectations and institutionalised mediocrity. But individual distinction still makes many Scots uneasy. So does the concept of paying more to reward excellence.

The success culture focusing on enterprise, targets, achievement and reward is growing slowly in Scotland on many fronts - the Scottish Office Education and Industry Department and Scottish Enterprise to name but two. The process is fed at the roots by growing acceptance of the notion of individual responsibility in areas such as health and lifelong learning.

Party politics lag here. Which party will pledge commitment to the enterprise culture within schools - creating more opportunities and less dependence? Are positive, reward-based management styles still compatible with the caring community?

Which party will be brave enough to turn its back on egalitarian collectivism? To dismantle wasteful municipal structures and free up schools in the budgetary sense?

To liberate teachers and heads to use the massive resource that is their school to meet local needs, act as catalyst and power house, develop and augment available resources and outreach?

The onward march of Conservative education reforms continues steadily under Labour south of the border. What can education expect here? Will any political party look further than increasing its power base and maintaining its ideological status quo?

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