Reinventing the mould on the Mound

26th January 2001 at 00:00
Did you hear the definitely Glasgow joke going around this Christmas?

Question: why was the Virgin birth unlikely ever to happen in Glasgow?

Answer (bears no relation to any alleged lack of suitable young women on Clydeside): the shortage of Wise Men from the East.

Wise men and women in the east and everywhere else should step to the fore right now in the world of Scottish education, as the aftermath of McCrone grips in its delicate and labyrinthine maw the future of a great profession.

We've been here before, of course, under governments of both colours. It's at least a dozen and a half years since Scottish management identified the need for modernisation of Scotland's archaic and complex conditions of service. Henry McLeish, First Minister, has underlined forcefully his belief that without reform Scotland will sink rapidly down both the economic and industrial charts.

For the Executive on the Mound, the stakes are high. A supremely forgettable feature of the nineties is that image of truculent, backward-looking unions locked in fruitless embrace with an impotent Convention of Scottish Local Authorities in the forum of the doomed Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee. Local authorities have failed schools in this area, as in many others where they continue to siphon off precious resources which should be going direct to schools.

Jack McConnell, the Education Minister, could try an Executive audit of what monies could be saved across Scotland and put towards the current salary funding proposals. He might find a greater degree of direct funding quite an attractive option.

Many people looked and still look to the Parliment to break this cycle of low standards and repeated local authority failure, and to deliver for teachers the breakthrough to status and respect which they crave and deserve.

Teachers want perhaps more than anything else a profession that will compete with others for the brightest graduates. They need to feel proud of what they do, and see their occupation rightly admired for what it is: one of the most important and respected career choices.

Promises of bursars and classroom assistants can only make the prospect of teaching more attractive. The proposed increase in professional development days makes sense to young people who see what industry offers in terms of career advancement. So does the prospect of choice between promotion to senior teacher status versus climbing the administration ladder. More can and must be done. The inclusion at any cost of the most disruptive in general classes is ideological nonsense - a policy crafted with barely concealed disdain for teachers and other children. Violence and ill-discipline have also to be tackled with more than just another investigative body.

What Labour is attempting to achieve now is more or less what its unpopular predecessors were trying to bring about in the eighties. As so often, Conservative policies are adopted 10 years on by the previous Opposition, which in fact may be in a better position to deliver.

The current administration does not relish the prospect of industrial action, particularly in election year, although it is said that Mr McConnell is "spoiling for a fight" if he has to take on the wilder elements. Politically he can't afford to fail this time.

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