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Directors want new deal on placings;News;News amp; Opinion

SCOTLAND'S directorates want the placing request and school board legislation scrapped in favour of local authority schemes.

In a submission on the proposed Education Bill, launched yesterday (Thursday), the Association of Directors of Education says both pieces of legislation are too prescriptive and do not give authorities the flexibility to deal with local circumstances - a general "light touch" theme which runs through its response.

The association, which meets in Edinburgh today (Friday) for its annual conference, says the 1988 School Boards Act "is perhaps the best example of statutory provision at an entirely inappropriate level of detail. It is clearly absurd that the law should prescribe the composition of appointments boards for various grades of promoted posts or the electoral arrangements for boards in schools of various sizes.

"The ethos of the 1988 Act is one of distrust. It reflects the belief of the then government that local authorities would, if offered the smallest of loopholes, avoid consulting parents or involving them in the work of schools."

The directors want the Act replaced by a general duty on education authorities to draw up schemes for parental involvement, approved by the Scottish Executive if necessary. Ministers have already signalled they are planning a rethink on the role of school boards.

There is unlikely, however, to be any U-turn on parental choice as Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, made clear as recently as a fortnight ago at the annual Edinburgh conference. The directors welcome the planned change that authorities can turn down a placing request for entry into primary 1 if the size of class would put pressure on accommodation as children move through the school.

But, as with the school board provisions, the ADES believes the placing request legislation is too detailed and should be replaced by a general duty on authorities to draw up schemes for admissions to schools. These would simply oblige councils "to comply with parental preference other than in exceptional cases".

Demand for authorities to be given a freer hand is also evident in the reminder to ministers that the present ring-fenced funding of pre-school education ends in 2002 and should be included thereafter in the general local government financial pool.

Such a change would assist parental choice, the submission states, because it would allow councils to meet the wishes of parents who want to defer their children's entry to education. This has to be financed by the councils themselves at present because Government funding is earmarked specifically for the pre-school stages.

On the whole the association gives the Bill a general welcome. Michael O'Neill, who steps down as ADES president this weekend, says the proposals are "far-reaching and opportunity-filled".

Not unnaturally, the association supports the Executive's intention to put education authorities in the driving seat to deliver ministers' agenda of "continuous improvement".

Mr O'Neill pledged that education authorities would be "well-managed, quality-conscious and quality-seeking" as their part of the bargain.

The price to be paid is that the authorities will have to undergo inspection by HMI, replacing the present voluntary system, and will be required to publish annual progress reports on their performance. The association cautions, however, against premature assessment of performance in areas such as early intervention which would take 10 years to have an impact on exam results.

The ADES cautions that resources will have to be provided, particularly for the extended quality assurance processes council education departments will have to introduce. The Executive should cost the various measures in the Bill, it suggests.

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