Storm clouds gather to the north and south

24th May 2013 at 01:00

England seems like a different planet any time Michael Gove puts his head above the parapet. Displays such as the one at the National Association of Head Teachers' annual conference may be familiar to weary teachers down south, but in Scotland his high-handedness can still take the breath away. "If you think Ofsted is causing you fear I am grateful for your candour, but we are going to have to part company," he said with barely concealed contempt, when one delegate suggested that he used the inspectorate to preside over a culture of bullying and fear.

The mutual hostility in Birmingham has had few, if any, parallels in Scotland in recent times. Our education ministers typically turn up to teaching conferences, deliver a string of platitudes about Curriculum for Excellence, thank teachers for their sterling work, then get pulled out to some other pressing engagement with barely a murmur. There may be ripples of discontent on the occasions when they stay to field questions, but few teachers ever take the chance to grill a visiting minister.

The script has been familiar for years, through a succession of ministers. Of the 2013 vintage, Alasdair Allan and Aileen Campbell leave impressions of thoroughly nice people. Even education secretary Michael Russell, who revels in withering putdowns at parliament, reins in his abrasive tendencies and does a persuasive job of arguing that he is on the teachers' side. When Sir Ken Robinson surgically picked apart Mr Gove's prescriptive approach, in The Guardian last week, he admonished that "creativity, like learning in general, is a highly personal process"; Scottish ministers could reasonably pat themselves on the back and say: "That sounds like the sort of enlightened stuff we say."

Yet there is anger rumbling in Scotland. There were dark mutterings at this month's teaching union conferences about an impending catastrophe with the National qualifications. The government plea that it does not have the powers to protect teachers' pensions is wearing thin. Bitterness about the kidney punch that supply teachers feel they suffered in 2011 shows no signs of dissipating. Next year's council budgets may well be the most difficult in recent memory.

And now one of the most lazy, oft-repeated myths about Curriculum for Excellence has been blown out of the water. The EIS survey of primary teachers may not have thrown up quite the level of panic seen in the equivalent secondary poll earlier this year, but one can no longer blithely observe that "primary schools are fine about CfE - it's not much different from what they've always done".

Scottish ministers do not serve as the lightning rods for teachers' ire that Michael Gove does in England; the anger is more inchoate here. Even so, the horizon is beginning to swell with storm clouds.

henry.hepburn@tess.co.uk.

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