Sobering tales from the vaults;Leading Article;Opinion

8th January 1999 at 00:00
THE HISTORY of Scottish education, once a topic for wide-ranging study, largely goes unchronicled these days. Most teachers are deplorably ignorant about it. In their training years they receive little if any idea of the traditions they are inheriting. The annual revelation of Government papers from 30 years previously therefore brings a rare focus. The late 1960s, as David Henderson reports on page four, saw much attention to the possible abolition of corporal punishment, which was destined to remain in schools for another 15 years.

There are lessons to be drawn from the papers on sanctions available to teachers. First, any proposed reform will be opposed on the ground that it will destroy civilisation as we know it. Amid the present dire predictions about Higher Still, are there echoes of similarly exaggerated fears? Second, history shows curious contradictions. On the one hand there appears to be nothing new under the sun. Teachers 30 years ago were as concerned about the curriculum and school management as they are today. Primary languages were about to be embarked on first time round. On the other hand concerns can become quickly outdated and some of the rhetoric shows how once accepted or acceptable views soon disappear.

The accounts from the sixties of beatings in approved schools and the lubricious justifications for them seem to us offensive and outlandish. What chords will be struck when the next generation of teachers reads today's official papers a third of the way through the next century?

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