Who's a radical minister?

16th July 2004 at 01:00
Last week's string of announcements by Charles Clarke, England's Education Secretary, was inevitably deemed to be "radical" - a curious ragbag of policies from 200 new city academies and the expansion of popular schools to compulsory school uniform. Of course, as Scotland chooses to travel a similar destination by an entirely different route, this is regarded as not radical and therefore amounts to "doing nothing". How fatuous.

More nonsense emerged when the names of business tycoons entered the picture - or "private cash for state schools", as it was headlined. This suggested that, just because individuals like Tom Hunter, Willie Haughey and Irvine Laidlaw all happen to be entrepreneurs, they have a similar outlook. The Hunter Foundation, for example, has already made it abundantly clear it wants nothing to do with city academies. As we reveal this week (page one), it has plenty of ideas but that is not one of them.

The Executive also has plenty of ideas. But, judging by its rather limp response last week both to Mr Clarke's announcement and to its talks with the private sector, you would not think so. Quite apart from the work taking place to overhaul the curriculum, assessment and initial teacher education, considerable innovations have been getting off the ground under the aegis of the national grid for learning, the national educational priorities and the little-noticed "future learning and teaching" (Flat) programme. The public sector is perfectly capable of generating its own ideas, thank you very much.

So who knows yet which side of the border has a monopoly on radicalism? We observed earlier this year how David Miliband, the arch-Blairite who is England's School Standards Minister, spoke at a headteachers' conference south of the border in terms which would not have been very different in Scotland. It is always worth repeating his mantra: "The radical thing in politics is not always to invent something new. In education, the radical thing is to take what is outstanding and make it universal."

Scottish Executive policy in a nutshell?

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