New era, new brief;Leading Article;Opinion

21st May 1999 at 01:00
IT IS not just coalition government that Scotland will have to get used to in the coming months. Sam Galbraith will be an Education Minister with time to devote to schools - which may be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on which end of the target range you happen to be standing at. On the other hand Henry McLeish, the new Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, may struggle to keep abreast of further and higher education when he also has to spend his time either mourning at unemployment blackspots or celebrating at new call centres.

These ministerial dispositions, at first sight, look odd. The Scottish Office has invested considerable effort, even before the present administration gave us "joined-up government", in sewing the seamless garment of education, training and employment. This culminated in the creation of the Scottish Office Education and Industry Department, which is about to be disbanded.

Now we are to have the education portfolio broken up effectively into school and post-school remits, a real challenge to joined-up government. If, as we are led to expect, the committees of the Scottish Parliament are to shadow ministers, that presumably means two education committees.

Challenging as these arrangements may be, they are not particularly novel in UK terms. The English system has had separate schools and higher education ministers for some time. There is evident sense in linking the post-school scene to the outside world, while child care and pre-fives sit naturally alongside schools. Time will tell.

As for the ministers, logic is reinforced by pragmatism. Mr McLeish gets a vote of confidence as the safest pair of hands to defuse the tuition fees timebomb once the independent inquiry reports on student support. Mr Galbraith also has lengthy experience but will be equally tested as the first of the ministers to steer a major Bill on to the statute book.

As for "peace in our classrooms", the teaching unions should not cheer Helen Liddell's departure from the education brief too precipitately. Although Mr Galbraith has a cheerful if not pawky demeanour, he is not known as a soulmate of the unions. In his previous health post, he proved himself every bit as eager to embrace targets as Mrs Liddell was. Interesting times.

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