Now come the strings

21st July 2000 at 01:00
IT IS almost axiomatic that after a major spending announcement few people are any the wiser. The Scottish Executive is, naturally, eagerly looking forward to spending the additional pound;3.4 billion allocated to Scotland in the Chancellor's expenditure review for 2001 to 2004. Jack McConnell, the Finance Minister, and Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, now have some much needed room for manoeuvre as, among other things, they grapple with the funding implications of the McCrone report. But neither needs to be told other claimants are already lining up pleading their particular priorities.

The Chancellor's announcement was inevitably going to prove a damp squib for Scotland. Devolution now means that the regional parliaments and executives must be left to take their own decisions. In Scotland, that means a September budget. All we know for sure is Mr McConnell's rather carefully chosen formulation that the Scottish Executive would "fully utilise the extra resources available for education". So indeed we are none the wiser.

Butthe Chancellor's package and the Scottish response are likely to be as significant for continuing the regime of targets and "money for modernisation" as for anything else. His statement had a highly centralising message about "tying new resources to reform and results, locking in incentives, penalties, inspection and information". The Scottish Executive shows no signs of taking a less dirigiste line. So Mr Galbraith will not wish to see teachers simply rewarded for their intrinsic professional merits: they will have to continue demonstrating year-on-year improvements.

Broad targets are a sensible mechanism for keeping an eye on the ball. But they have to command the support of the professions to which they are applied. It is at best uncertain whether that key requirement is fulfilled by imposing highly specific targets such as increasing from 60 per cent to 85 per cent the target of 14-year-olds in England meeting literacy, numeracy and IT standards. Let us hope the Scottish Executive can see the wood rather than just the trees.

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