The Educational Institute of Scotland kicked off its "election campaign" this week with a difficult balancing act. The union intends to promote the successes of the state system during 17 years of Tory rule while at the same time painting a pessimistic picture.
Around 100,000 copies of its first leaflet, Setting the Standard for Scottish Education, have been sent to school boards, "supportive" parents' groups, education authority leaders and directors of education.
The union will target Scottish MPs as it presses for a number of commitments from the political parties, reminding them of the System 3 poll commissioned by the EIS which showed that 55 per cent of the public said policies on education would influence the way they voted. The EIS has set out five key pledges it expects of an incoming government: * Development of the comprehensive principle to ensure equality of all young people.
* Adequate funding to guarantee standards.
* Reduced class sizes.
* "Safe, secure and attractive" schools, colleges and universities.
* Education to be "properly accountable" to local communities.
The EIS's intention is to accentuate the positive Scottish dimension, a reflection of its irritation that educational debates have become dominated by what the union sees as "irrelevant" preoccupations from England.
Ronnie Smith, the EIS general secretary, said: "The many successes of Scottish education are largely due to the partnership in education involving parents, teachers and others in the community. When we hear examples of violence and falling standards from south of the border, we have the responsibility to remind the public of just how different our circumstances are in Scotland. "
The union's priority in the run-up to the election would be "to focus strongly on the success story of education in all sectors and in all parts of the country".
He added: "The reality, of which we hear too little, is of rising standards, improved performance in exams, better opportunities for girls and young people from less well off backgrounds, strong public and parental confidence in the work of teachers and of schools, and better opportunities than ever before for young people to go on to further and higher education."
But the Pounds 80 million cut from education budgets last year will be reinforced next year, the union believes, as the Chancellor's Budget statement on November 26 "will confirm the scale of the funding crisis which is affecting all sectors of education".
Against this background, Mr Smith says the debate on the clothes pupils and teachers should wear in school is of little relevance.