Policymakers must look to the long term. Discuss

18th April 1997 at 01:00
On current electoral form, there will be a Scottish Parliament in place before the turn of the millennium. What difference will this make to Scottish education?

A clutch of commissions has been set up by John Wheatley Centre to look at a number of policy areas in anticipation of a Scottish Parliament. These include law, relations with Europe, the future of quangos and the environment. I have been involved as convenor of the commission on education and training.

Early on in our life - which was a few months only - we decided not to aspire to the pomp of a traditional commission's report, but to go instead for a series of questions, each with their own briefly stated rationale.

We had neither the time, nor the expertise in depth and breadth to be authoritative. Instead, we set ourselves a 10-year timescale, and aim in the draft report primarily to construct an agenda that could be taken up by future parliamentarians.

We offer a few options as to how the Parliament might wish to respond, and add some possible measures for knowing whether or not any progress has been made in the intervening decade.

Two fundamental themes ran through our thinking. First was the need for a longer-term perspective than usually exists in British politics. We have tried to open up lines of thought that might otherwise be closed off by the imperatives of political instancy.

The second theme was balance. By highlighting this, we hope to induce our representatives to look at the system as a whole, and at the education system's relationships to other parts of social life, rather than picking piecemeal at parts of it.

Here are our questions. I invite readers to match them with their own. The report is in draft form, and reactions are welcome.

* What is the appropriate balance between initial and continuing education?

* What should the balance be between public, voluntary and private sectors?

* What is the appropriate balance between formal and informal learning?

* What should the relationships be among different educational sectors?

* How should the education system relate to industry and the professions?

* What can be done to make our current education for citizenship adequate?

* What should be the role and status of educators?

* Can and should resources be allocated differently?

* Where and when should education and training take place?

* How can education be made more accountable?

There is space here only to enlarge on two of these, illustrating the two themes. The first question challenges the notion that we should go on extending initial formal education to as many people as possible, whether it is persuading more 16-year-olds to stay in school, or pressing more 21-year-olds to do postgraduate degrees because a first degree is now worth less in the labour market than it was.

To be more precise, not all expansion is desirable, in a world of markedly finite resources. Any such rebalancing must, we stress, be accompanied by an expansion of other kinds of learning.

The seventh question illustrates what we mean by a long-term perspective. We need to sustain and improve the standing and expertise of all those who work in education.

If there is to be a change in the definition of what educators do - for instance in the use made of "paraprofessionals" in the classroom or new technology in training delivery - the implications of this for the identity, status and pay of teachers and lecturers need to be worked through carefully.

Stasis is not an option; it only delays change. A 10-year perspective, though, sorts out those who simply do not want to think about change from those who recognise it will happen, wish to share in it, but need time to accommodate it.

In less than two week's time we shall know in what kind of receptacle the questions belong: in-tray or incinerator.

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