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Editor's comment

At a time of unprecedented economic cuts, do schools really want more autonomy, or even full independence? This week's conference on Managing Scotland's Schools (p6) was built on the premise that they do.

Keir Bloomer, former Clackmannanshire education director and subsequently chief executive, promptly renounced his previous calling by saying it was time to remove schools from local authority control and give them to headteachers to run. Headteachers, in turn, surprised no one by asking for a greater say in their own affairs but, above all, a fairer funding formula, pointing to the current postcode lottery that sees similar-sized schools with an annual spend per pupil ranging from pound;4,172 to pound;6,518.

The catalyst for much of the recent debate around giving schools greater autonomy was East Lothian Council's bold proposal last year to transfer its schools to community-based trusts. The idea appeared to be a win-win proposal: schools would be more firmly rooted in their communities while, at the same time, the authority would save pound;2.5 million in non-domestic rates via the transfer to trust status. Yet when it came to the crunch, the very people in whom these greater responsibilities were to be invested stepped back from the precipice. There was no "appetite" for community trust schools at this time, said the council's leader, Paul McLennan (p1). Primary schools, it appeared, preferred to remain under local authority control, rather than be "subsumed" under their neighbouring secondary.

So what does this tell us? That Scots are "feart"? Not necessarily. Their reaction may be prompted by a wariness that taking on greater risks will not necessarily be compensated by the potential benefits. But it is an idea which might yet return, forced to the surface by financial necessity rather than overwhelming enthusiasm.

Neil Munro, editor of the year (business and professional magazine).

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