No league tables - McConnell
He rejected calls from Michael Russell, the SNP's education spokesman, to abandon central publication of national statistics on school costs, attendance and absence, and exam results. Mr Russell wants schools to publish information locally through handbooks and on the Internet, removing the need to draw national comparisons between schools.
But the minister insisted publication of information was good for schools and helped drive up standards. In his home area of Wishaw and Motherwell, Braidhurst High, which until a few years ago had struggled against Dalziel High, had now been turned around due to the efforts of everyone at the school.
It now had the second highest level of attendance at any North Lanarkshire school, and people could see that in the published statistics. This raised morale and led to further improvement, he said.
Mr McConnell distanced himself from Labour policy south of the border, insisting "there is no place for privatisation, selection or streaming". He supported diversity and choice but did not want to see "children at a very early age split up into different classes in different schools and told they are failures".
The minister promised increased stability following the post-McCrone deal on pay and conditions but nevertheless trailed a Green Paper on other issues later this year, repeating the confirmation in his TES Scotland interview last month.
Mr Russell described what he called the centrally imposed target-setting regime as Stalinist. "The reality is that schools are still trying to perform to criteria set elsewhere and that skews the learning in schools. Children are being taught simply to meet the targets and pass the assessment. There is more assessment than in any other schools in Europe and we o not see the benefits of it in the results," he said.
In reply, Mr McConnell said that targets were set by schools themselves and it was right that they should be published.
For the Conservatives, Brian Monteith welcomed further diversity that was already evident in secondaries with specialisms in music, dance and sport. "The reality of our education system is that the comprehensive ethos is already breaking down and has been for a number of years," he said. Mr Monteith said parents were choosing their schools by buying their homes in certain areas. Schools were therefore far from comprehensive in their intakes. "Parents have brought about that change," he said.
Ian Jenkins, Liberal Democrat spokesman, described league tables as "subversive and misleading" and only gave a partial view of a school. "A school's ethos cannot be captured in a league table and all the performance indicators in the world cannot reduce a school to a soundbite," he added.
Colin Campbell, SNP, and former east end of Glasgow secondary head, said league tables had a devastating and spiral effect on schools down the list. "I did not find it a funny experience," he said. There was no measure of the number of children kept out of jail because schools transmitted positive social attitudes to students or the family crises avoided because of systematic guidance. Life out of school could be lived in total chaos for some children, he said.
Irene McGugan, SNP, called on the Executive to emulate Northern Ireland, where performance tables have been scrapped by Martin McGuinness, the Education Minister. A consultation showed 75 per cent opposed to publication of tables.
"They have favoured allowing schools to provide information directly to parents and others. This allows schools to give parents a rounded picture of the school, with the curricular and extra-curricular provision on offer, setting the examination performance in context," she said.