Muddled messages on diversity

7th November 2003 at 00:00
Jack McConnell may not be in favour of spin, but he should be congratulated for convincing everybody that he was announcing a new curricular departure in his speech this week (page five). In fact, the new philosophy of greater choice, vocational alternatives for non-academic youngsters and an end to the "one size fits all" comprehensive were all laid out in his very first article as education minister, which appeared in The TES Scotland three years ago. He repeated it last year when, as First Minister, he summoned headteachers to breakfast to make sure they were on-message.

His message this week was both an educational and an economic one.

Ministers seem finally to have got the point that the constant emphasis on the importance of having 50 per cent of young Scots in higher education has taken their eye off the ball about the aspirations of the other 50 per cent. It is now commonplace to observe that Scotland is well served by its graduates and the deficiencies lie in our lack of technician and craft skills. So Mr McConnell was doing no more than reiterating the importance of a vocational curriculum, for its own sake, for the good of the pupils and for the economy.

Of course, this is not terribly new. Since we have an ageing profession, many will remember the eagerness 30 years ago to introduce the "vocational impulse" into the curriculum following the Brunton report. Today we probably stand a better chance of getting to grips with that since there is now a greater willingness to trust schools, courses are of better quality and there is little risk of re-creating a junior-senior secondary divide.

Diversity should rule, OK.

But we have a 3-18 curriculum review before us and its job will be to try to make sense of all this. The reaction to the proposals from Douglas Osler, former head of the inspectorate (letters, page two), is ample testimony to the fact that its task is a major one. The First Minister himself has muddied the waters with his comments on modern languages. The curriculum review has to ensure it sends out a clear message, not just one that is on-message.

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