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All-in service for children

STIRLING'S director of education is to take control of virtually all aspects of children's education and welfare in a shake-up that may be emulated by other councils.

Gordon Jeyes will assume responsibility from the social work department for children and family services such as fostering, residential care and child protection. Social work is effectively being broken up, with the head of community services taking over the rest of social work.

Mr Jeyes, whose pound;57,000 salary is to be reviewed, stressed that social workers would not become a branch of the education service. "We are creating a new, fully integrated children's service," he said. "The culture of education has been moving in the direction of a children's service for some time in all but name."

The move, approved by the council this week, is seen as a logical step following Stirling's ground-breaking move in setting up a children's committee in 1996 rather than an education committee.

Councils such as Falkirk and Shetland have combined education and other services at committee level but, apart from links between education and leisure, officials have tended to stick with their traditional empires.

Stirling's decision to set up an integrated children's service, which will not be fully operational until next April, was recommended by the influential Scottish Local Authorities Management Centre at Strathclyde University.

Colin Mair, the centre's director, has long advocated the "joined-up government" now espoused by the Scottish Executive, in which services are organised to make sense to the public not for the convenience of the bureaucracy.

A symbolic signal that "departmentalism" must be broken down came with the appointment of a Children and Education Minister in the Scottish Executive.

The blurring of professional boundaries between education, health and social work is also at the heart of the new community schools which are being set up across Scotland over the next three years.

A survey of Stirling's staff showed a majority in agreement that there are stronger links with other services and agencies than between the component parts of housing and social work.

The official reaction from Unison, the main local government union, has been measured, calling for clear leadership, full consultation and adequate support for staff in managing the changes. But, in a warning shot to education officials, the local branch secretary states: "Unison is not against joint working or partnerships, but the partners would have to play equal roles without dominance from a particular partner. There has to be a level playing-field."

The report to Stirling makes it clear that top management posts should be open regardless of professional backgrounds. "There should be no presumption that a director of children and family services should come from either an education or social work background," the authors state.

Last week Ronnie O'Connor, Glasgow's senior depute director of education, was appointed director of social work. This is thought to be the first time a senior educationist has taken full charge of another service as distinct from those who have moved into administrative posts, for example to become chief executives.

But any suggestion of reverse traffic is likely to be greeted with much more hostility.

The Association of Directors of Education fought a successful rearguard action at the time of local government reform to prevent outsiders without a qualified background in education from joining its ranks.

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