DOUGLAS OSLER, the Scottish executive's chief education adviser, has raised the ante on social exclusion by making a personal commitment to improve life chances for young people who continue to flunk school.
In a refreshingly upfront address last week to the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers in North Ayrshire, the senior chief inspector described teaching able pupils as the easy bit. "The mark of the true professional is the ability to challenge the unmotivated and the reward is their success."
Too many young people - 4,000, or 7.2 per cent of all leavers between 1995-98 - left school with no qualifications and too many continued to be excluded. Sixty-five per cent of offenders had been excluded or truanted and there were areas where the education system failed to reach.
Mr Osler stated: "We do lose too many young people from the system and we cannot any longer write them off as a delinquent element. They are not. Many are intelligent, interested in learning but not being in school. We need to persuade them that school is the best place to learn because that is where most opportunities can by provided by our society. I think we need to put much more of our professional skill and intellectual capital, as well as resources, into this end of the market."
The big idea was learning, not school, and the way in which young people learn outside school had changed dramatically. This was perhaps one reason they found schools less motivating.
The biggest challenge was motivating children - and boys in particular. "One of the answers is to make sure that teachers have more time to teach and more time to engage with pupils. The most critical factor in quality learning is quality teaching. If young people relate well to their teachers, they, they will come, contribute and learn. No worksheet, no computer, will do as well," Mr Osler said to applause.
He continued: "One of the strengths of our education system is the maintenance of the link between the teacher and the pupil and everything must be done to ensure that there is less management, less paperwork and more teaching."
Mr Osler again gave his total backing to new community schools and said that of all the developments over the past 12 years this gave him most professional satisfaction. Schools could not go it alone and teachers had to welcome the involvement of other professionals and agencies.
"No matter how good a school may be, if children go home to all or some of poor parenting, inadequate housing, unattractive localities, inactive communities, high unemployment and bad advice on health, their learning will falter or stop and the school will not be able to make the difference which it can make if these other problems are tackled in a more co-ordinated on site manner," he said.
Children from 86 per cent of middle-class families go on to higher education but only 12 per cent of those whose parents who are unemployed. "If we could improve on that, the rewards would be high in social and economic, as well as educational terms," Mr Osler said.
In a final flourish, he argued that here were only "a very few situations" where a child should be excluded. "Classroom, yes, school, no," he said.