Robertson seeks way out of self-rule jam

Neil Munro

Raymond Robertson, the new Scottish Education Minister, has announced a review of the opt-out policy north of the border to discover why only one Scottish school has become self-governing.

His move, just seven weeks after stepping into the job, has met the predictable response from unions, local authorities and parents. But the review, which is to be accompanied by the setting up of a "one-stop shop" body to provide Scottish Office advice on opting-out, also looks set to provoke dissent in Scottish Tory ranks.

The day before Mr Robertson's announcement, Alan Young, who was political adviser to Ian Lang when he was Scottish Secretary, took to the public prints to denounce the opt-out policy in Scotland as being "of less consequence than any other piece of legislation passed by this Government". He was backing the view of David McLetchie, president of the Scottish Tories' voluntary wing, who believes the way forward is through devolved school management.

But Mr Robertson, with the assumed support of Michael Forsyth, the Scottish Secretary and architect of the opt-out legislation when he was Scottish Education Minister, is intent on pressing ahead using his experience as a former teacher in Strathclyde to denounce control of schools by what he regards as remote and inflexible bureaucracies.

He said: "On my first day as Education Minister, I identified myself as an unashamed fan of self-governing schools because I see them signposting the way to giving schools what they actually want locally. I want to find out why more Scots don't appear to feel the same way." He has, however, ruled out compulsion.

The two-year Dornoch Academy in Sutherland, with just 48 pupils, is the only opted-out school in Scotland so far. The application by another atypical small school - an Episcopalian primary in Central Region - is currently with the Secretary of State (in whose marginal Stirling constituency it lies).

Another eight schools have been the subject of parental ballots, all of which have voted in favour of remaining with their local authorities.

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