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One voice for ministers

The leading curriculum and educational technology bodies in Scotland are almost certain to merge, a long-anticipated move heralded in a consultative document issued by the Scottish Office last week.

The replacement of the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum and the Scottish Council for Educational Technology by a single organisation, which would attract a Scottish Office grant of more than Pounds 3 million, is one of three suggested options.

But there is a clear steer in the proposals towards amalgamation. The paper notes that "while both bodies make a major and different contribution, there is an underlying coherence in their objectives which is driving them together. Perpetuating the present system would also lose an opportunity for delivering better value for money."

Nigel Paine, SCET's chief executive, endorsed the document's acknowledgement of a natural and growing link between technology and education. "We see this as an opportunity rather than a threat since we have been working more and more closely with the SCCC," he said.

A statement from the curriculum council did not commit it on the future relationship with SCET but welcomed the Government's provisional view that ministers should continue to receive "arm's length" advice on the curriculum from an independent body.

Professor Paine believes that there is no argument for the status quo but says the third option of combining the two functions of the SCCC and SCET in separate bodies, one to provide advice and the other to develop the curriculum, is "a non-starter".

The consultative document describes this solution as "potentially costly and complex".

The SCCC also says it "strongly supports the argument set out in the consultation paper that the advisory and developmental functions should not be separated".

The proposed shake-up follows Government reviews of both organisations, which are a normal feature of quangos and are carried out every five years.

The SCCC review was undertaken by David Alexander, formerly senior depute director in Strathclyde and now an educational consultant. Mr Alexander was a known critic of the curriculum council, believing the former regional councils could have done the job just as effectively.

Coincidentally, the "prior option study" of SCET was handed to another former member of the directorate, Bob Currie, who was an assistant director in Central Region.

Both reviews argued that the advisory and developmental functions of the SCCC and SCET should be split. The Scottish Office has rejected the idea but signalled that it wants a tighter rein on curriculum development to bring it more clearly in line with Government priorities.

The Scottish Office accepts, however, that the commercial activities of SCET could be gradually separated from its role as adviser to local and central government. The SCET review said these functions created "a potential conflict of interests" and the Government has accepted that its educational technology contracts should be opened up to competitive tender.

Professor Paine said this posed no threat "since we are in the market-place already".

The Scottish Office is looking for responses to its proposals by the end of November. A final decision will be taken in January.

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