Miliband embraces McConnell

2nd April 2004 at 01:00
The contingent of Scottish headteachers who travelled to Harrogate last week for the annual conference of the Secondary Heads Association must have pinched themselves when they heard the speech by David Miliband, School Standards Minister in England. Having been fed a diet of declarations from the Executive's education critics in Scotland that we must adopt the "radical, modernising agenda" of Blair's England, it now appears that the Blair agenda may be moving suspiciously close to Jack McConnell's.

Unlike many of his various ministerial predecessors, Mr Miliband came to the conference to praise schools, not to bury them. He talked up their excellence, commended the improving quality of teaching, espoused personalised learning as education's "big idea", backed the fostering of creativity in schools, promoted assessment for learning, supported curriculum choice, including more vocational opportunities, embraced sports, music and the arts to enrich learning, and flagged up the key importance of professional development. The script could have been written in Victoria Quay.

Perhaps the most remarkable passages were those to do with "intelligent accountability". This is to consist of more focused inspections "that support school self-evaluation" - a policy that was almost a banned substance in England during Chris Woodhead's regime. Moreover, Mr Miliband told heads, the Government wants to see "a simple improvement cycle derived from your own evaluation of your school's strengths and weaknesses". There must be "a balanced and rounded debate about school performance". By this stage, we were convinced the Scottish Executive had written the speech.

Of course, there remain significant differences. In England, performance pay, not to mention the drive to create a nation of specialist schools, excites and ignites. But the degrees of convergence are striking: here was one of the arch-modernisers in Blair's circle coming into line with Scotland. As Mr Miliband so eloquently put it: "The radical thing in politics is not always to invent something new. In education, the radical thing is to take what is outstanding and make it universal."

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