Policies in search of a readership

21st February 1997 at 00:00
The choice is between Raising the Standard and Building Scotland's Future. If education is as central to the forthcoming general election as we are told, these must be the two key documents in Scotland. Few will read either, although one promises to build for the next generation and the other to raise standards. Unfortunately for immediate clarity, the building promise comes from the Conservatives although BSF is Labour's title, and raised standards are Labour's aim but the title belongs to the present Government.

Politicians have a fondness for cliche (and pun). Despite the current belief that there is little to tell Tory and Labour apart, no one reading either paper could mistake it for the rival party's.

Although RS is a White Paper, the smart money will be on BSF having a greater chance of implementation. Not that Labour's document is new despite it being portrayed as such in the daily press. In large measure it follows the wording of Every Child is Special, which was the mark one paper for consultation issued last March.

Had Helen Liddell, Labour's spokeswoman, had to ditch ECIS something would have been wrong. It was criticised from within Labour's ranks and by the teacher unions, but Mrs Liddell has mainly stuck to her guns. She has been rewarded by a favourable review from the Educational Institute of Scotland which, so close to the election, prefers to pursue private talks about what Labour would do to teachers than indulge in public debate.

So if the smart money proves to be on the right nose, we will have a Labour "compact to maximise the potential of every boy and girl". School boards will be reformed. Poor teachers will be shown the door. There are plenty of other promises and pledges for that is the stuff of party policy documents, and the Tories, SNP and Liberal Democrats all make promises, too (some of them the same).

No one should doubt that Mrs Liddell or any other Labour education minister would seek to implement the pledges over a number of years, and civil servants would be put to work to render them practical.

But BSF will not be much read because teachers and parents have other priorities. Would Labour make funds available where the present Government has not? Would music tuition be safeguarded? Would schools be closed? Only an incoming Chancellor of the Exchequer can provide the framework in which answers could be given. Gordon Brown does not exude optimism.

There is another dimension to the debate. Much of BSF would belong with a Scottish parliament. The new Government's plans to get on with setting it up would arouse more interest than whether and when BSF moves from promise to reality.

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