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Conveners' vision of future

SCOTLAND'S 32 education conveners met for the first time in their new network which replaces the old committee system of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

The Convention has appointed 22 national spokespersons for all local government services, collectively reporting to council leaders who now meet regularly.

The reforms were initiated by Oonagh Aitken, COSLA's new chief executive, to try to streamline policy-making.

The new tone was signalled by Danny McCafferty, the education spokesperson, at last week's meeting. "A key task of the education conveners' network will be to set out a vision for the future," he said. "Then we will work to make that a reality."

The thinking behind the new structures has also been partly designed to head off any encroachment on council territory from the Scottish Parliament and Executive. The education Bill, with its plans for "local improvement objectives" and the inspection of education authorities, has already shown the Government's determination to bind councils to its policies, already a feature of the specific spending allocations for education from the excellence fund

Mr McCafferty warned ministers to back off from any centralising ambitions. "Local authorities must be entrusted to deliver the service without unnecessary restrictions, working in partnership with our colleagues," he said. "Teachers and other education professionals, working together with para-professionals and colleagues from other services will be at the cutting edge."

In another warning, Mr McCafferty said the education system could not "trundle on". He added: "We have vital decisions to make - about the outcomes we want from the education system, about how we ensure we manage the changes which new technologies are bringing and about the skills and resources we will need to have in place to ensure our children and young people receive the best."

The education conveners' network aims to involve more councillors in policy-making, at a time when sweeping changes are replacing traditional council committees with cabinet-style government and "scrutiny committees." The conveners will set up task groups for in-depth work on specific issues, and they will also visit other authorities to learn from good practice.

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