Co-operative Scots win praise

Neil Munro & Ian Nash

Scottish further education colleges are working with schools to prevent potentially destructive battles over teaching 16-year-olds which have occurred south of the border.

Independent research carried out by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation after college incorporation shows that schools, local education authorities and the 43 FE colleges have forged close links. Only a minority of English and Welsh colleges have managed to achieve such ties.

Ian Finlay of the Scottish school of further education at Strathclyde University, who headed the research, was surprised at how positive it proved to be.

"I began it anticipating that there would be conflict between colleges, education authorities and schools," he says. "While there was some, particularly over the allocation of land and property, the only other issue of major concern was over bursaries which is really a matter for central government to address."

The Association of Scottish Colleges hopes it will do just that. Fearing a further squeeze on local authority budgets after the new unitary councils are established next April, it has already pressed the Scottish Office to take over responsibility for awarding student bursaries from the education authorities.

The "Bridges or Battlements" report concludes that there is far more collaboration than competition.

Secondary school headteachers are on boards of management in 22 colleges, while another 24 boards have local councillors. Legislation which restricts councillors from joining college boards in England and Wales does not apply in Scotland.

Ruth Gee, chief executive of the Association for Colleges (AFC) in England and Wales, said the Scottish experience should be adopted as a wider model for co-operation and that legislation should be passed to encourage it.

"The Scots have always cared more about education than the English. The model of co-operation highlighted in the Rowntree research is to be envied, not only in England, where 'class war' continues to rage, but also in Europe."

Virtually all local authorities in Scotland have set up some type of forum for colleges, education authorities and schools to discuss post-16 issues.

The Scottish study, which was published by The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, suggests that "there is still a role for education authorities in the strategic planning of post-compulsory education".

These findings, however, could soon become largely historical. The research suggests optimistically that pressures will soon emerge throughout Britain to promote collaboration.

Two major developments on the horizon - the new local councils and the reform of the post-16 curriculum and examination system, will force colleges, schools and authorities to reinvent their relationships and rebuild their bridges.

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