New Bill, old targets;Leading Article

9th July 1999 at 01:00
A new parliament does not guarantee new thinking. The Improvement in Scottish Education Bill is a reworking of Helen Liddell's Targeting Excellence White Paper. Although there are elaborate and welcome arrangements for consultation during the summer, there is no sense of excitement in its provisions, and no evidence of input from the Liberal Democrats.

The Minister for Education imposes on himself a statutory duty to raise standards, but Sam Galbraith is aware that his direct powers are limited.

Local authorities remain the employers of teachers and overseers of schools.

The minister may deploy his inspectors more effectively and may expect accusations that they are interfering beyond their recognised remit, but in descending on council leaders and chief executives they will still be distant from the arena where performances are enhanced or botched.

Individual teachers in thousands of classrooms hold the key. By maintaining the much derided targets, Mr Galbraith will not endear himself to schools.

Representing a professedly open government, has he been listening to the complainants? When the target exercise has run its three years, it will be replaced by locally devised "improvement objectives". But how will they be an improvement?

Big issues are postponed. The Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee is given a last chance, not for the first time. Hoped-for recognition of able teachers is left to the outcome of the union-management negotiations. Supervision of continual professional development is tied up with the review of the General Teaching Council, and next week we should know whether voting reform is on Labour's agenda there. So far, Mr Galbraith's style differs from Mrs Liddell's but not his policies.

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