One-size fits all policies don't favour Scotland

3rd November 2006 at 00:00
Spare a thought for Jack McConnell. You need a "big idea" for an election manifesto, one that will make a difference, be easy to articulate and will excite voters.

So are science academies the answer for Scottish education? I don't think so, and I am not alone in this view. We all know that such schools could produce stunning results, but at the price of skewing the system and diverting resources from less glamorous but more necessary and effective uses.

If there is a point to devolution, it is that we are able to devise policies for Scotland which meet Scotland's needs. The problem with the one-size-fits-all policies that come out of Westminster is that they tend to be heavily influenced by the needs of the south-east of England in general and London in particular.

The agenda of parental choice and the construction of specialist "academies" might seem attractive in a metropolis where there is already a multiplicity of models of provision and high population density. In Scotland, we have a tradition of not having educational "no go" areas.

Our agenda ought to be simple: excellence should be available in all of our high schools. That there are wide differences across the country is a matter of huge concern, but it will not be addressed by hiving off our best pupils to a tiny handful of hot-house schools. It is an abrogation of the duty of those who seek to lead public education to adopt such a divisive policy.

The unfortunate truth is that there is no magic lever to transform Scottish education. Improvement comes through the hard work and dedication of those involved in the process and much is to do with the difficult affective side of the equation. Turning schools around takes vision, dedication and hard work.

There is no denying that, in some fields of education, special measures are required. Sport, music and dance, for example, need early and specialised training.

Perhaps science, too, needs further provision but not at the expense of fracturing our school system and (presumably) distorting the chances of university entrance in science subjects.

George Hayton

Convener of lifelong learning

Perth and Kinross Council and deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group

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