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Directors dig in to fight school snatch

There is no meaningful alternative to education authorities, Jim Anderson, president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, will today (Friday) tell his annual conference in Peebles.

A week after Frank Pignatelli, education director in the former Strathclyde Region, questioned the value added to schools by council education departments, directors are hitting back and insist there has never been a greater need for supportive authorities that drive up improvements in schools.

Mr Anderson, director in Angus, is expected to rebut accusations that education departments add little of worth.

"If there were no education authorities, we would have an excessively centralised national education service - with a culture which would inevitably stifle enterprise - and we would soon find that groups of schools wanted to band together for a common purpose, so that very shortly 'education authorities' would be reinvented under another name," he says.

Directors have been stung by Mr Pignatelli's comments to the secondary headteachers' conference last Friday in which he accused directors of harassing heads and intervening in matters best left to schools. There would be few disasters if schools largely ran themselves, he said.

He was also amazed at the salaries of the current directors who he suggested had created their own empires after local government reorganisation in 1996.

Mr Pignatelli, now chief executive of Learndirect Scotland, further challenged the need for 32 separate authorities, which he claims is a "waste of money".

But Mr Anderson in his presidential address this morning is likely to accept calls for a review of the number of councils. "What we have at present may not be ideal, and of course it is valid to question the need for as many as 32 education authorities, but the counter to this argument is that one education authority for all Scotland would be unhelpfully monolithic," he points out.

Mr Anderson continues: "ADES opposed the reorganisation of local government in 1996 but we have rolled our sleeves up and adjusted extremely well to the huge sea change which 1996 heralded. Of course, we have lost economies of scale but we have also gained much closer and in most cases more effective working relationships between schools and the education authority."

He adds: "We need local government just as much in a devolved Scotland as we did before and the benefits to the education service from being managed by local councils far outweigh any perceived disadvantages."

Commentators who question the need for an education authority need to be clear about the alternatives, Mr Anderson says. Direct funding of schools as in England is not a particularly attractive option.

"Then there is the duty to provide education for excluded pupils: who will take on this duty if there is no education authority? Is support and challenge for schools to be provided by a government agency?" he asks.

Mr Anderson says individual schools would be left to implement the plethora of legislation emanating from the Scottish Parliament and doubts the capacity of small schools with limited funds to cope with all the administration currently carried out by the authority.

He will also repeat the plea for the Scottish Executive to rein in the number of initiatives it dumps on authorities. Freedom to innovate is being constrained, he argues.

Mr Anderson will further reinforce the message that HMI has no place in improving the practice of schools. The role of the inspector is quite different to that of a director. "Follow-through rhetoric notwithstanding, the inspector does not have a meaningful support role to play," he stresses.

"Her or his main job is to offer an objective view of how well a school, or an education authority, is performing. There is no long-term relationship of any meaningful kind with the school."

Mr Anderson said that authorities had to develop a mutual trust with schools. If schools did not trust directors and failed to believe they offered genuine support, efforts to challenge them would be seen as hostile.

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