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Absent friends;Leading Article;Opinion

LOCAL AUTHORITY education advisers have had few friends in recent years. Their numbers were trimmed before and at local government reorganisation. The media, looking for educational hangers-on, treated them even worse than education directorates. Teachers who at one time relied on their expertise and counsel came to see them as "adspectors", whose visits bore more relation to those of the HMI than of professional colleagues.

Happily, fashion has changed. Advisers are coming in from the cold. And not before time, according to Michael O'Neill, the president of the directors' association. Their absence contributed to difficulties with Higher Still and other initiatives seen as burdensome by teachers.

The argument is cogent. A national programme cannot be delivered by a small central team (inspectors or members of an ad hoc body like the Higher Still Development Unit) and thousands of teachers in school, who have other pressing concerns. Local advice is essential.

Mr O'Neill must be aware of the next stage. If local authority advisers through absence have proved their indispensability, then the broader case for local government is also made. In other words, whatever the shape of education under the parliament there has to be a tier between central government and the schools.

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