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Councils fear HMI takeover of policy

Education authorities are growing increasingly suspicious of what they see as "expansionist" HMI moves to develop a hands-on inspectorial system for local government, as a similar regime gets under way south of the border (page 12).

The Inspectorate has been undertaking a "national task" on the management of education in the new unitary authorities for two years. It has also been invited by East Renfrewshire and two other councils, whose identity is yet unknown, to look at the way they run education.

But Elizabeth Maginnis, the education authorities' spokesperson, denounced plans for detailed scrutiny of education authorities as "expansionism" of the worst kind. It was deeply patronising, Mrs Maginnis said.

John Travers, past president of the Association of Directors of Education, said the association has "sufficient reservations about the inspection of education authorities that we could not endorse it".

The proposal for HMI scrutiny of education authority performance was first mooted by Michael Forsyth, the former Scottish Secretary, last year. But an Inspectorate source played down concerns the plan may still be on the drawing board. "There is at present no statutory opportunity to extend the powers of HMI to inspect local authorities which is why we do it by invitation," he said.

Directors have been particularly annoyed by an HMI check-list which sets out detailed questions on how councils involve local communities in policy-making, the extent of community involvement in schools and how well led the authority is as well as on aspects of educational management.

Mrs Maginnis said: "Their whole thrust seems to be in terms of compliance with national initiatives and norms without acknowledging the different emphases which reflect local needs and the policy-making role of local government. "

She suggested HMI was preparing the way for a national education service under a Scottish parliament.

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