McConnell's great debate

19th January 2001 at 00:00
The Scottish Executive is still intending to issue an education Green Paper later this year, the Education Minister has confirmed.

But, in the second part of his extensive interview with The TES Scotland, Jack McConnell made it clear the purpose would be to spark off a wide education debate not to saddle schools with new commitments just when they are having to absorb the consequences of the exams debacle and the post-McCrone settlement.

Mr McConnell described teachers as "one of the most demoralised groups of public sector workers in the country" and spelt out clearly that his strategy is to move away from the era of bombarding schools with initiatives and leaving them with responsibility for the consequences.

"We must be at the centre of what schools are doing, not them being at the centre of what we do" is becoming his leading mantra.

"There are a series of immediate problems which have affected morale in the classroom, affected the quality of what's going on in Scotland's schools, are affecting pupils' education and are barriers to progress for Government objectives and priorities," Mr McConnell said.

He cited four issues which clouding the partnership he is keen to promote - suspicion and concern about the role of the Inspectorate, the erosion of discipline, ongoing concern about exams which has undermined confidence in the reliability of the Government machinery, and teacher workload, including excessive paperwork and constant reviews of curricular guidance.

"In each of these areas," Mr McConnell said, "there s a need for ministerial action to say that those who are in the classroom should be at the centre of the system - and the system should be supporting them, not them supporting the system. I think in all these four areas the balance has gone in the other direction."

Having identified the pressure points, he proceeded to remove the Inspectorate from its policy-making involvement, set up a discipline task force which he chairs, engineered wholesale changes in the management of the exam system and ordered a bureaucratic audit of schools. The reorganisation of the Inspectorate "was the first thing I mentioned to the officials when I became Education Minister".

Although these are his immediate priorities, other outstanding issues remained to be addressed: 3-14 assessment, the place of technology in learning and the nature of the curriculum. But he said:"I don't think the Scottish education system can handle significant change on these issues in the immediate future. What we need is stability, a bit of conservation of the changes that have already happened, a reaction to some of the opinions and expressions of the concerns I have outlined, as well as the bedding in of some of the changes following the McCrone report."

Mr McConnell promised an "inclusive" great debate that would involve the public as well as educationists. "But I don't want to spark off a debate when the immediate problems have to be tackled. The system has got a problem at individual school level and I want to tackle that problem before we do anything else."

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