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Heads rally to rebut criticism of authorities

Aberdeenshire teachers have joined Scotland's education directors in delivering a decisive thumbs-down to those who say local authorities do not add value to schools.

The authority itself was given a firm thumbs-up for the effectiveness of its quality assurance practices.

On the final day of a three-day conference and "quality fair" celebrating Aberdeenshire's successes over the past year, primary and secondary heads from both rural and urban schools told The TESS they appreciated their authority.

The issue rode to the top of the agenda after Frank Pignatelli, Strathclyde's former director of education, delivered a broadside against local authority control of schools at the secondary heads' annual conference (TESS, November 21).

But William McWhirr, rector of Mintlaw Academy, said Aberdeenshire plays a key role as a conduit between the Scottish Executive Education Department and schools. He also praised the authority for ensuring schools and teachers are able to get together to share their expertise.

One example of this, Mr McWhirr added, is curriculum support groups where subject principals across the 17 secondaries in Aberdeenshire meet regularly.

Lorna Dawson, the teaching head of the 34-pupil Tipperty Primary in Ellon, said she valued central support in raising awareness of new initiatives.

The authority's quality assurance procedures also provide support and feedback and "tell you whether you are doing a good job".

Janice Paterson, head of Insch Primary, who has taught in a part of England where the local authority had a lesser role, said that from her experience this system did not work. "I would not want to work without authority support because there are so many initiatives that come at us that we need the support in helping to explain and implement them and to tell us that what we are doing is right."

As the head of a new secondary, Andrew Sutherland, of Meldrum Academy, was aware of particular pressures. "We worked very closely with officers and heads of service in a number of areas in terms of budget management, understanding the needs of the school and devising curriculum and management structures. We also found we needed the broader partnership with the authority in establishing staffing and community needs."

Richard Stroud, convener of Aberdeenshire's education and recreation committee, called Mr Pignatelli's proposal "short-sighted", adding:

"Education and recreation is wider than schools and it is very important that connections are made between the various elements as well as addressing the initiatives that take place."

At a conference on the final day, John Finnie, head of quality development in the council's education department, said a key factor in improving performance in a number of areas over the past year had been the practice of converting the data from inspectorate reports into quality indicators and then comparing these with the QIs received from schools.

"Our conclusion is that there is a very high co-relation between what the schools say about their performance, what our quality assurance officers find and what inspectors say," Mr Finnie said.

The final clinching argument for the effectiveness of authorities working together with their schools was the progress made in the past year in almost all the areas regarded as priorities by both, he added.

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