Schools stay in the limelight
The mixed verdict is delivered in the second "programme for Government", unveiled on Monday partly to mark Henry McLeish's 100th day in office as First Minister. Mr McLeish describes his administration's policies as "progressive and pragmatic".
But the gloss was rubbed off by his continuing troubles with care for the elderly and by his political opponents who dismissed the repackaging efforts as "a rehash of the same old policies", in the words of an SNP spokesman.
The boldest declaration in the education section is that the Executive will "restore standards in the Scottish examinations system in 2001", an undertaking with which Mr McLeish has personally identified himself to the embarrassment of Jack McConnell, his Education Minister.
There is also a pledge to improve 5-14 assessment by 2003 "so that achievement can be effectively measured", the next major issue on Mr McConnell's in-tray following consultations last year.
The Executive restates its commitment, which first appeared in the social justice targets, that an increasing proportion of children should achieve the "appropriate levels" in reading, writing and maths by the end of primary 2 and primary 7, respectively levels A and D.
Current rates of progress suggests this will be done more quickly in P7 than in P2. The number of younger pupils at or beyond level A in writing, for example, was 16 per cent in 1999 compared with 47 per cent who had reached level D by the end of primary school. More P2 pupils were none the less at the right level in maths, 66 per cent, than their P7 counterparts, at 64 per cent.
A new undertaking is to develop a comprehensive strategy for school buildings by next year, following on the commitment to build or renovate 100 schools by 2003.
This year will see the fruits of discussions being held within the Executive's special needs advisory forum on the future of the record of needs, now widely discredited as overly bureaucratic and driven by the availability of money rather than the requirements of children.
Although Mr McConnell said in his TES Scotland interview last month that the system cannot handle further significant change at present, work on reforms will not cease. The mark two programme for overnment confirms that the piloting of "future school projects" will go ahead, with plans for evaluating new ways of learning to be drawn up next year.
The rest of the programme for children and education merely builds on existing commitments. The reduction of P1 and P2 class sizes to 30 pupils will be repeated in P3 where there is now 68 per cent coverage; the achievement of a free nursery place for all four-year-olds will be matched for three-year-olds by next year; schools will move from one computer for every nine secondary pupils and one for every 28 primary children to 1:5 and 1:7.5 respectively; the number of new community school projects will grow from 47 to 60 this year; and targets are "on track" to hire 1,000 additional teachers and 5,000 classroom assistants by next year (738 extra teachers and 1,500 assistants have been recruited so far).
On lifelong learning, the Executive pledges to complete already announced if unfinished business, such as investing in adult literacy and numeracy, delivering 100,000 individual learning accounts by 2002, creating an all-age careers service and introducing pound;2,000 bursaries for students from low-income families.
THE FIRST MINISTER'S FIRST REPORT CARD
* Spending on the Sure Start Scotland programme for the early years to reach pound;19 million this year.
* A free nursery place for all four-year-olds and 68 per cent of three-year-olds.
* Launched the national childcare information line.
* An extra pound;8 million for childcare infrastructure and staff training.
* Childcare allowances for FE students up by pound;6 million.
* Schools spending to increase in real terms over three years.
* Two specific funding increases of pound;48.9 million earmarked for school books, equipment and repairs.
* Key national priorities established to drive up standards.
* P1 and P2 classes cut to 30 pupils.
* One computer for every nine secondary pupils and for every 28 primary pupils.
* E-mail addresses for 66 per cent of secondary and 29 per cent of primary pupils.
* 47 new community schools projects set up involving 230 schools.
* Councils funded to employ 738 new teachers.
* HMI reformed "to focus on supporting teachers, schools and education authorities in achieving high performance".
* A new statutory right to education "designed to realise the full potential of every child".