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New hymn sheet needed

And so farewell then, Ewan Aitken - or perhaps not.

For someone with such a passionate commitment to education, it is unlikely Mr Aitken's election on Tuesday evening to head the Labour-led administration on Edinburgh City Council will mean a complete loss for the world of education.

Mr Aitken, aged 44, beat off a strong challenge from Elizabeth Maginnis, fellow councillor and herself a former education convener in Edinburgh. He won, on the second ballot, by 17 votes to 14.

The new leader, who takes over officially next Tuesday, was seen as having a better prospect of building a coalition with the Liberal Democrats if, as expected, the new proportional voting system for next May's council elections results in no party having an over-all majority.

The shake-up in Edinburgh will not only see a new political head of what is now called its children and families department but will also have national ramifications in the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, where Mr Aitken was education spokesman. A meeting of the Cosla leaders' forum could decide on his replacement as early as today (Friday).

Mr Aitken, who pens a monthly column in The TES Scotland, was seen as a thoughtful councillor with unusually wide-ranging interests - partly explained by the fact that he is an ordained Church of Scotland minister.

But his first taste of national prominence was one he would rather forget - having to defend the council's decision to ban the filming of children during school nativity plays.

Malcolm Maciver, who, as convener of the teachers' side, faced him across the table in pay negotiations, paid tribute to Mr Aitken's positive contribution to relationships with the unions. "He had a real commitment to education and he also saw the bigger picture," Mr Maciver said.

The mettle of the new education authorities' leader will be tested around this time next year when negotiations will get under way for teachers' next pay round, which takes effect in 2008.

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