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Editor's comment

Education authorities are under pressure from all sides: equal pay legislation impacting on their budgets, the Scottish Executive telling them they must work more efficiently, and the prospect of a tight financial settlement from the Treasury in the next spending round.

So directors who handled the lion's share of their council's budget - education - are taking over the other big purses, such as social work or children's services. They are looking for ways to work more collaboratively and efficiently, by setting up everything from care and health partnerships to council-run trusts. So far, wholly-owned council companies have ventured no further than building services, or culture and leisure. But could education be the next service to be hived off under a trust?

As if the financial pressures were not enough, along came HMIE with an evaluation of its first programme of inspections of all 32 education authorities in Scotland. Variations between performance were "too great".

Many were making a real difference to their schools, but most were just meeting basic requirements. Ten local councils had sustained high-quality educational leadership over the years, while nine authorities were judged to have major or important weaknesses in their leadership.

The findings bear out what the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland identified last week at its annual conference: they need to put in place effective succession planning. But who will lead education in the future? How many future leaders of joint children and families services - or whatever name the merged departments decide - will have worked as teachers? Will it matter? Is a background in teaching necessary? Would an experience in steering a complex ship not be better?

Most who hail from the chalkface insist it does matter, because it gives them the ability to sift the options. The fear is that financial and managerial priorities will loom larger than educational ones.

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