The long and grievous shadow of Dunblane

27th December 1996 at 00:00
End-of-the-year reflections usually offer the opportunity for attempts at elegant phrase-making and gentle barbs about the passage of events and personalities who glittered. An example appears in 25 Years Ago (page two).

But this December there is no getting away from Dunblane. Leaving aside what the "festive" season must mean for the bereaved families, repercussions from the tragedy nine months ago continue to dominate the headlines. From the siting of a Christmas tree to the use of funds, the community has been divided. The parliamentary passage of the guns Bill is proving more contentious than was once hoped. The Royal Family has stirred crass controversy.

Up and down the country education committees have been debating school security, asking themselves whether the Government's special allocation of money will be adequate and whether there can ever be guaranteed security within a public building like a school. The relationship between voluntary groups, local authorities and parents can never be the same again, thanks to the career of Thomas Hamilton and the evidence presented to Lord Cullen's inquiry.

March 13 was described in The TES Scotland as the worst moment in the history of Scottish education, a history which in terms of state involvement goes back at least half a millennium to an anniversary celebrated this year. If the story of a complete millennium of Scottish education ever comes to be written, the Dunblane tragedy is the one event from our own time which is sure to be chronicled.

With that in mind, the rest of this year needs little comment. The new local authorities came into being and despite their financial difficulties, predictions of chaos did not materialise: the school buses turned up at the gates at the beginning of the summer term under new council arrangements just as they had before the Easter holidays. It looks as if the real test for the councils will come next year, but the issue will not be about how to run services on a smaller scale than for 20 years. Budget pressure will dictate policy.

Teachers (and not just those in schools) believe they confront perpetual change. The claim was repeated at the recent TES Scotland conference on Higher Still. In fact, although change is in the system, this year saw only developments of previously announced initiatives and not (thankfully?) a rash of new ones. The 5-14 programme advances across the primary curriculum and, more hesitantly, into secondaries as well. With Higher Still, there is still a feeling that a start is not imminent. If that offers teachers a comfort blanket, time will soon remove it.

Elsewhere, it is claimed that not enough pupils are nationally tested, nor sufficient teachers appraised. According to the inspectors, schools continue to teach without writing down what they are doing. Performance indicators have been simplified. The job itself has not become easier. But what is new in saying that?

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