Tartan targets

7th August 1998 at 01:00
Whatever Helen Liddell does as minister for education will come under intense scrutiny. The opposition parties, especially the SNP, will turn every educational initiative to political account. If her remit is to pick holes in the Nationalists' case, they will do the same to her every time she speaks about school standards, target-setting or parental responsibilities. The merits of the argument on either side will be lost in close-quarters fighting.

Mrs Liddell also has her own baggage train, not just through her previous employment and the unresolved problems of local government in her backyard. In opposition she spoke like a mum at the school gates who thought the place needed to pull its socks up. But the pursuit of higher standards has to be carefully managed.

Despite the admonitions of the press last week, she should avoiding replacing Brian Wilson's approach with a supposedly tougher one borrowed from the Department for Education and Employment. We have no need of action zones or of naming and shaming individual schools. The target-setting initiative is under way. It may need amendment, and teachers certainly remain to be convinced of its merits, as the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers has underlined in a bulletin to members (page three).

Mrs Liddell's advocacy would be best directed towards that, and she would find the Inspectorate enthusiastic in support. Education authorities might be less keen, but the MP for a North Lanarkshire constituency is unlikely to go out of her way to massage council egos.

The new minister will match her critics, political and in the teacher unions, for energy and determination. The millennium review will prove an early test. The woman who made leading figures in the City of London quake does not shirk a challenge.

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