Time for trust in the democratic process

9th November 2012 at 00:00

The youth vote helped to deliver a second term in office for President Obama - evidence, if any was needed, of why politicians might want to extend the franchise to younger voters. A cynic might suggest that the SNP government has offered 16- and 17-year-olds the vote in the independence referendum in the hope that it will benefit. But that is perhaps looking at the issue from the wrong angle, and this week's News Focus (pages 12-15) examines some of the arguments around lowering the age limit for voting.

It is surely time to re-examine the age thresholds young people face. Incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into the Scottish government's Children and Young People Bill offers the perfect chance to do so. That a 16-year-old is considered mature enough to fight in the armed forces, marry and parent a child but not to vote seems to defy logic. Some fear that teachers will wield undue influence on 16- and 17-year-olds' voting intentions. Surely that does senior pupils and teaching staff a disservice.

With the General Teaching Council for Scotland's current review of professional standards placing an unprecedented emphasis on teachers' moral values, is it not time to trust teachers to behave ethically and to trust young people to see through attempts to brainwash them? The teaching profession faces bigger challenges than this, as publication this week of the National Partnership Group report on implementation of Teaching Scotland's Future makes clear (pages 5-6).

The NPG's endorsement, along with that of education secretary Michael Russell, of Graham Donaldson's main recommendations signals a commitment to deliver a culture change. But change management is rarely easy. If the aim is to shift up a gear and create an all-master's profession - or even one performing at master's-level without the paper qualification - we should remember that the chartered teacher programme foundered largely because it was not sufficiently integrated into the whole school ethos. Heads will now become the gatekeepers to access to master's-level study, since they will hold the purse-strings. It gives them the control they always wanted of the chartered teacher programme. Heads, too, will have to step up to the mark. While aspiring school leaders will have to acquire a leadership qualification, existing heads will also be expected to provide evidence that they continue to meet the Standard for Headship by taking up suitable CPD opportunities.

It is hard not to detect a strong move towards a more centralised delivery of continuing professional development - and not before time. The current landscape is too piecemeal, with a lack of coherence across authorities. But as Education Scotland warns, the current direction of travel will require significant investment.

Elizabeth Buie, Deputy editor

Gillian Macdonald is away.

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