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It's time to hold local government to account

Campaigning for the local government elections has begun in earnest. It's time, therefore, for everyone involved in education to consider whether their councils have served them well over the past five years. Have they delivered their side of the bargain in the concordat between local and central government? Faced with ever-tightening budgets, have they prioritised the right services and protected the right jobs?

We hear today (News Focus, page 10-13) of some success in the implementation of the Additional Support for Learning Act - vital legislation to support our most vulnerable young people. Yet despite its good intentions, there remain some groups who are still being failed, most notably looked-after children. There can be little doubt that corporate parenting is one of the most intractable problems local authorities face - but we cannot let them falter in their attempts to offer the very best to the children in their care.

The additional support system can work well - the case of John Rutherglen (News Focus, p12) is a clear demonstration of co-operation between his family and teachers. But although John, who has autism and a hearing impairment, struggles with communication, he has articulate parents who can speak up for him. Not everyone is in that lucky position - and that is where we need effective and caring local services who can be their advocates.

So the Scottish Parent Teacher Council is really speaking for all the families less able than its activists when it makes a plea in its local government manifesto this week for protection for additional support for learning services from budget cuts (page 7). It also picks out illiteracy as another priority area for education authorities. A head of steam appears to be gathering to finally tackle illiteracy: the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland and the group set up by the education secretary to advise him on raising attainment pulled no punches last month (TESS, 23 March) when they both identified literacy as a key element of any improvement strategy.

It therefore makes for worrying reading that the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy has uncovered significant gaps in teachers' confidence to deliver some of the most fundamental planks of Curriculum for Excellence - literacy, numeracy and health and well-being across the curriculum, not to mention the concept of depth, breadth and challenge.

Primary teachers appear more sure of their ground here than their secondary colleagues, but could they yet come a cropper? Two eminent academics (page 5 and Letters, page 30) suggest that if pupils' performance in secondary maths is weak, it is because their foundations in the subject are shaky. The education secretary was quick last week to attribute a strong showing in numeracy at primary stages to CfE - let's wait for stronger evidence before we start cheering.

Gillian Macdonald is away.

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