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The daring dynamics of the directorate

Members of the ADES have a tradition of wandering along relatively unsafe pathways, says Alan Blackie.

SPARE a thought for university professors - especially those who are mischievous and have time to write articles for newspapers. Professor Walter Humes's column in The TES Scotland two weeks ago refers to research on the impact of devolution on local government in Scotland by Bennett, Fairley and McAteer. The article is interesting if somewhat naive and not fully informed, although it is accurate on a number of points.

It is the case that most education officials are fairly positive about post-devolution arrangements - and that is understandable given the significant involvement of senior education officials in advising on and debating the key and critical issues. Without a dynamic and constructive but robust involvement with the Scottish Executive Education Department many of the important recent developments in policy and practice would have been the poorer.

The Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES) has advised on the Standards in Scotland's Schools Act (2000), the shaping of the McCrone agreement and the national priorities. The association is currently represented on a wide range of groups including the ministerial review of sport.

Professor Humes refers to directorates being "well connected to policy-making circles" - and again that is both accurate and understandable, even desirable as the article acknowledges. However, there is then a major leap of logic which asserts that the relationship is "comfortable . . . complacent and self-regarding" without any clear evidence being offered.

Nevertheless, Professor Humes is undeterred in continuing - still with no real evidence - to imply that directorates have no interest in encouraging openness and accountability, and no desire to widen real involvement and participation. So, while his critique is interesting and perhaps even helpful, it is somewhat remote from the real world. Maybe one day he will get the opportunity to take on a task where being effective is as important as being right.

However, the ADES agrees with Professor Humes's concerns that new voices are required and that real power-sharing needs to be both encouraged and fostered. While more needs to be done, members of the ADES - on a day to day basis - are committed to real and meaningful involvement of parents and pupils in the important business of improving education.

In addition, the present leadership has - as Professor Humes acknowledges - made significant progress in recent years to ensure that the association plays a significant role in shaping the future of education. We have developed strong links with similar bodies in all other parts of the UK and are frequently involved in key debates on common themes.

Similarly, the association - through its links with other parts of the UK - has launched the Virtual Staff College Scotland which will provide continuing professional development for senior education managers throughout Scotland. This is being done in partnership with the universities, including Strathclyde University, where Walter Humes is professor of education. This development is a significant one and in line with the drive for continuous improvement and best value.

There is, as always, some way to go - to state otherwise is to be self-deluding. The partnerships the ADES has developed in recent years are dynamic and exciting but certainly far from cosy.

"Where then is the Scottish equivalent of Tim Brighouse?" Professor Humes asks. Come to that where is the English, Welsh or Irish equivalent . . . why do we need to have such compartmentalised models? Academics and local government can and do work well together in the mutual interest of improving and developing the quality of education in Scotland.

As the theme of this week's annual ADES conference clearly demonstrates, the association is in good heart and is deeply concerned about inclusion, equality and social justice. These issues are at the very heart of education in the 21st century and are an integral part of the national priorities in education. The association looks forward with anticipation to continuing to wander along relatively unsafe pathways . . . as is our tradition.

Alan Blackie is director of education and community services in East Lothian and president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland for 2002.

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