No let-up in drive to deliverLabour's Holyrood promises

16th March 2001 at 00:00
Labour will be even more demanding of education to fulfil a whole series of pledges if it forms the administration after the 2003 Scottish parliamentary elections.

The party's Scottish conference in Inverness at the weekend restated its educational aims and targets, but a series of policy reports piled on the pressure for the education service to deliver policies across virtually an entire agenda. Social inclusion, local government reform, health, sport, culture, Gaelic, enterprise and lifelong learning - all discussed at the conference - had plenty of implications for education.

From public access to the Internet and the anti-drugs offensive to childcare and the skills revolution, it seems all areas of the education system will be expected to play their part in making a reality of Labour's twin mantras of "inclusion and opportunity for all".

The party is currently in the midst of finalising a number of consultative documents on a range of topics which have been thrashed out in its policy forum and will be voted on at next year's conference. These will then form the basis of Labour's manifesto for the 2003 elections.

Labour's ambitions and expectations appear boundless. The policy document on education, enterprise and lifelong learning states: "All levels of education should enable us to understand the interdependence of environmental, social and economic issues, and empower us as citizens to wisely manage our resources.

"Schools should foster an understanding of community and of the need for people to co-operate, and schools and classrooms should be encouraged to adopt methodology and procedures which demonstrate this to children and to young people."

The document does, however, acknowledge that there should be a balance between "vocational education, life skills and knowledge for its own sake". The SNP has accused Labour and the Executive of turning education into vehicle for utilitarian objectives and abandoning the pursuit of learning for its own sake.

The two ministerial speeches none the less embodied Labour's all-embracing approach. Wendy Alexander, Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister, reiterated her familiar ambition of boosting skills and learning to build sustainable jobs and develop the knowledge economy. As the policy document put it, there is a "crucial link between education for life and economic success".

Jack McConnell, Education Minister, said Labour's educational watchwords would be "excellence, quality and standards". On a broader front Henry McLeish, the First Minister, pledged a different slogan of the three Cs to make Scotland "compassionate, confident and competitive".

Mr McConnell's speech largely restated existing achievements and challenges, faithfully reflecting the electioneering line, conveyed from the Prime Minister's speech downwards, that there is "much to be proud of but much to be done".

Mr McConnell, while earning plaudits for his "classroom-centred" approach, was reminded sharply by Ian McCalman of the Socialist Education Association, a past president of the Educational Institute of Scotland, that the key to driving up standards lay in "well-motivated and well-rewarded teachers".

The minister acknowledged that low teacher morale had been "getting in the way" of the agenda to raise standards and tackle exclusion. He paid tribute to teachers for signing up to the post-McCrone settlement, which he took as a sign that "they share our vision of having modern schools and inspiring teachers to ensure we fulfil the potential of every child".

Mr McConnell accepted, however, that young people's circumstances rather than their potential often determined their future. The Executive was taking steps to break the link between class background and achievement, he said.

Leader, page 18

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