Tales from the confessional

25th February 2005 at 00:00
his has been a week for confessionals. First, the First Minister criticised the "anti-achievement" culture which pervaded schools in the 1980s (when he was a teacher and prominent socialist council leader). This was a juicy morsel for Jack McConnell's political opponents who recalled the traditions of his left-wing past, when such "progressive" views thrived. Second, Anne Wilson, Dundee's director of education, prompted some unwelcome publicity when she observed that the low attainment of the city's pupils "has something to say about the aspirations and self-image of the people of Dundee". This was also a juicy morsel for those who thought it amounted to some kind of defeatist educational determinism.

In reality, while neither would have known it at the time (The TES Scotland is always happy to be of service), Mr McConnell and Mrs Wilson were both expressing their frustrations - with commendable honesty - at the failure of many schools to move up from the bottom rung of the attainment ladder.

It is debatable whether this is ever going to be possible until "poverty is history", as the First Minister was urging this week (page three). However, we do not wish to be accused of determinism ourselves.

Perhaps the brightest chink of the week was the fulsome judgment of HMI upon East Renfrewshire Council (page five). Dotted by leafy suburbs it may be, but the authority has some "challenging" pockets into which it appears to be making significant inroads in terms of the have-nots catching up with the haves. The Education Minister has invited the authority to tell everybody how it is done. Are there any lessons for others?

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