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Critics told to stop the sniping

"We're here to stay," Fraser Sanderson, outgoing ADES president, affirmed in his speech.

The conference backdrop was the recent criticism by Frank Pignatelli, education director in the former Strathclyde Region, of the value added by local authorities.

But Mr Sanderson, director in Dumfries and Galloway, told secondary heads who have been equally critical that both sides were in the improvement agenda together. "It does not do any of us involved in the public purse-string any good sniping at each other from opposite trenches," Mr Sanderson said.

"In fact, it's a common agenda we are working to and shouts of, 'give us the resources and we'll do the job better', will not particularly help the situation. The reality is that heads are quite happy to have a buffer zone between them and the Scottish Executive."

A senior secondary head told the conference his colleagues did not want to see the axe taken to education authorities. But Ken Cunningham, a former president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, said this may not be their final word on the matter. The head of Hillhead High, Glasgow, commented: "I don't want to see the demise of local authorities and neither does HAS - anyone who suggests that needs to look long and hard at what the alternative is.

"But this is on condition - on condition that you operate in your authorities in the same way as you would wish us to run our schools."

Mr Cunningham said there was a "lack of equity" in the way authorities funded and supported schools. He cited the wide variations in provision for music, exclusion and the teachers' agreement. "Some say it would be better if we didn't have a middleman in the shape of the authorities, although I don't believe that."

But Mr Cunningham urged the directorate - and his own colleagues - to operate along good management lines. This should mean, he said, that they:

* develop trust;

* operate transparently;

* make time;

* provide encouragement;

* offer hope;

* appreciate significance; and

* reward productivity Mr Cunningham, who was politely if not ecstatically received by education bosses, urged them to speak out more strongly against national policies they knew to be harmful or impractical.

"Where were you, for heaven's sake, when the Executive decided on class limits of 20 in S1 and S2 English and maths? Did anyone tell them about the implications for PPP (the public private partnership initiative), or about the difficulties of recruiting enough teachers?"

But he was told firmly by David Cameron from East Lothian Council: "This was a speech for a political not a professional audience." One director went further privately, describing Mr Cunningham as "naive" in supposing that ADES could have overturned a policy that was in the governing party's election manifesto.

Mr Cunningham was also told by Christine Pollock of North Lanarkshire that the directors' association did raise some of the problems he had identified such as teacher numbers, supply and recruitment.

One of the difficulties, however, was that more and more schools are declining to take trainee students on placement. "We need all schools to take students," Ms Pollock stated.

Kay Hall, president of the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland, who backed Mr Cunningham's call for the directorate to do more for heads, told Ms Pollock that schools needed more support to train students. "The quality of the students is now such that they are very demanding of our teachers."

* The conference heard from a series of speakers about practice south of the border but the general reaction was to query its relevance to Scotland.

Following a talk by Clive Wilkinson, an assistant director and chief inspector in Worcestershire, Christine Dignan of Dumfries and Galloway commented that it was "the antithesis of the trust and partnership that we are trying to build in Scotland".

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