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'Pre-emptive' powers backed by Parliament

The Parliament's education committee has given its backing to the new legislative powers over schools sought by Peter Peacock, the Education Minister, which education authorities believe are "pre-emptive and unnecessary".

In its response issued on Tuesday, the committee said it "recognises the continuity of the relationship between schools and HMI, but accepts that the bill provides a legal endpoint to the HMI process and therefore could make a contribution to the Scottish Executive's educational improvement agenda".

But the committee was not unanimous and an attempt by Fiona Hyslop, the SNP's education spokesperson, to delay a decision until HMI's new inspection regime had a chance to prove itself was defeated by four votes to three.

The committee appears to have been been persuaded by, among others, Graham Donaldson, HM senior chief inspector of education, that the proposed powers were a "prudent" measure which would complete the inspection process. Steps would only be taken to intervene in a 'failing' school on HMI recommendations - although the Executive had not been able to say how such powers might have been used in the past.

The Executive's own policy memorandum accompanying the bill even acknowledged "it is likely that the use of the power would be very rare due to the strong working partnership that exists between HMI, education authorities and individual schools".

The financial memorandum implies the powers would only be used once or twice a year.

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