Here’s an interesting – and, for once, encouraging – development. Motherwell College (soon to be moving to a new campus on the site of the old Ravenscraig steel mill) is going to offer students the chance to study for the International Baccalaureate, rather than Scottish Highers. That’s a small, but significant victory for school choice, as teenagers at high schools in Lanarkshire will now have the chance to apply for one of the places on an IB course that has, until now, only been available in the private sector in Scotland. (Indeed, fewer than 150 schools across Britain offer the IB at present, though that number will grow as A-Levels and Highers continue t lose their value.)
Most striking, however, were the comments from Motherwell College’s Principal:
"If, as is very widely acknowledged, this is the best post-16 educational qualification available then why shouldn’t kids in Motherwell, in other parts of North Lanarkshire and indeed beyond that, be able to access it?
"It’s about making a programme, which historically in Scotland has only been open to private school pupils, available to all students on an open-access basis – ordinary kids."
And that, of course, is precisely the argument for school choice.
Though only 30 pupils will be admitted to the IB course each year this is still, symbolically as well as practically, an important step forward towards a more diverse educational system in which pupils and their parents are "empowered" at the expense of bureaucrats and politicians. The next step, of course, will be persuading teachers across Lanarkshire that they should embrace this opportunity and push those students most likely to benefit from the IB to consider taking it, not Highers. If that proves difficult or if teachers resist the IB then one would a) not be surprised and b) feel that the case for education reform was more compelling than ever.