A 21st-CENTURY "Munn and Dunning" review of the curriculum and assessment is at the heart of the unexpectedly far-reaching package of measures announced in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday as the response to the national debate on education.
The standards for curriculum and assessment, established by the Munn and Dunning committees of the 1970s, are now to be the subject of even more radical scrutiny - if the result lives up to the promise. It will be the first comprehensive investigation of both and the first that will look at the pre-school, primary and secondary sectors together.
The Scottish Executive acknowledged for the first time that teachers have been right to claim that the 5-14 curriculum, the first area to be reviewed, is overloaded. Cathy Jamieson, Education Minister, said in her parliamentary statement: "We will decide which subjects and skills are needed to create a focused core of learning. Pupils need more choice about what they study around that core of learning."
Ms Jamieson said the starting point would be the need to improve literacy and numeracy. "The current situation is simply not good enough. This is our most pressing problem and we need to tackle it on all fronts. We will reduce class sizes at crucial stages, so that literacy and numeracy can get the attention they deserve. We will review initial teacher education so that new teachers have the training."
The Executive will now take action against schools which fail in this area.
The inspectorate has already announced it will focus its efforts on schools which show "significant headroom for improvement", in the words of Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector of schools.
Ministers have also attempted to answer criticism of excessive testing by suggesting that pupils should face just one exam when they leave school rather than one every year from S4 to S6, a move that may spell the demise of Standard grade.
Ms Jamieson said she wanted to look at radical options for assessment. "We must have a simpler system, without age and stage restrictions. We will reduce the number of tests and exams in primary and secondary schools, and the amount of time spent on them."
The Executive's critics lost no time in taking issue with the statement.
Michael Russell, for the SNP, called it "a vague and insubstantial document, riddled with inconsistencies". Brian Monteith, for the Tories, said it was straight out of "the Educational Institute of Scotland guidebook for politicians".
The EIS, as if to oblige, gave the statement a broad welcome and called for a national dialogue on class sizes and for teachers to be centrally involved in the curriculum and assessment reviews as "part of the process of change".
Statement details, page 6 Leader, page 22