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Wilson declares war on failure

The Government has repeated its commitment to "no confrontation" with teachers, but made it clear that "standards must be set and measured to ensure all pupils are stretched to their capacity".

Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, used his first set speech before education professionals in Glasgow last Friday to say he would take teachers' concerns into account but expected them to deliver. The reaction suggested he had struck the right balance.

Mr Wilson was speaking at an equal opportunities conference where he signalled a high priority for "inclusive" policies to lower barriers against a quality education for the full range of pupils, from special needs youngsters to the ablest children and from travellers' families to adult learners.

"Education is far too important to be left to market forces," Mr Wilson told the conference, which was organised by the Educational Institute of Scotland and the Equal Opportunities Commission.

Departing from his prepared text, he endeared himself further by declaring: "I did not come into this job with any agenda which says that the problems of Scottish education outweigh the strengths and the successes."

Mr Wilson warned that ineffective performance would have to be dealt with,but without embracing the "name-shame" public identification of failing schools.

He indicated, however, that pre-school centres would be expected to match up to "the robust and demanding standards" of HMI as the quality measures introduced with the nursery voucher scheme survive its disappearance. The minister said: "I shall take action if any centre fails to meet these standards and so disadvantages children."

Mr Wilson also insisted that "schools will be expected to set clear targets to ensure that all children leave the early years of primary school able to read and count."

He returned to that theme later in an echo of the Conservative manifesto commitment to set targets for each school. Mr Wilson said: "I am not complacent about standards but I intend to build on existing strengths to improve where improvement is needed and to change where there is agreement that change will lead to higher standards. That is why I want to discuss with education authorities how to use the strengths of each school as a basis for raising standards."

That passage was quickly followed, however, by an undertaking: "I will do my part by asking my department to examine closely existing demands on teachers. Where they are unreasonable and unhelpful, they will be removed."

Mr Wilson's final remarks will have comforted HMI that its efforts to drive forward a quality agenda over the past 18 years have not been wasted."The task before us all is to lift expectations so that all pupils believe that success at school is worth striving for," he said.

"When people assess our policies, the test I want them to apply is whether a given policy is best for all children, whether it will improve our schools and whether it will help with the drive to ensure that the culture in schools is one of achievement and that the ethos is positive and purposeful."

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