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Councils in last stand against vouchers

The House of Lords committee considering the Education (Scotland) Bill will take evidence in Glasgow University's senate room on Monday and Tuesday, the first time that education legislation has been handled in this way.

The Bill will establish a Scottish Qualifications Agency to replace the two existing examination bodies, extends the Secretary of State's power to award grants for running nursery schools under the voucher scheme, amends the placing requests legislation and streamlines school board elections.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and others are continuing their opposition to vouchers but with no hope of success. Cosla's case has been weakened by the participation of four councils in the pilot scheme.

"There is a right to a voucher but not to a nursery place," the authorities argue. Rights of access for children with special needs are a particular concern. Kenneth Baker, a former Education Secretary for England and Wales, told MPs on Tuesday he would have preferred a differential scheme instead of a flat-rate payment of Pounds 1,100 to recognise the extra costs.

Although the creation of a single body to replace the Scottish Examination Board and the Scottish Vocational Education Council is welcomed, Cosla is unhappy that the composition of the board which will run the new agency is to be at the discretion of the Secretary of State. It wants a third of members to be drawn from council appointments. Seventy per cent of the new body's income will come from Cosla members.

Under revisions to the placing requests legislation councils will not be able to refuse a placing request if there are spaces in a primary school within 3.2 kilometres or in a secondary school within 4.8 kilometres. Cosla says this discriminates against urban and semi-rural areas.

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