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Scotland's school management back in the spotlight

Evidence requested on whether schools should be removed from council control

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Evidence requested on whether schools should be removed from council control

Original paper headline: Management of Scotland's schools back in the spotlight

Holyrood's education committee today launched an investigation into whether Scotland's schools should be removed from council control.

The committee is calling for evidence on whether changes should be made to "the future structure of schools management in Scotland".

It was a topic likely to generate considerable debate, said the committee convener, Labour MSP Karen Whitefield.

Education Secretary Michael Russell got the ball rolling earlier this week when he revealed that the Government supported councils giving greater flexibility and control to schools.

East Lothian Council's proposal to put schools in "educational trusts", announced last year as a way to save money, "may well fit in perfectly with the Government's aims", he said.

Changing the way education is delivered in Scotland was first mooted when former Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop threatened to take education from council control, after local authorities failed to make progress on cutting class sizes in P1-3 and teacher numbers plummeted.

Peter Peacock, Education Minister in the former LabourLiberal Democrat administration, said he would have "little reservation in reducing the number of education authorities" (TESS, December 11, 2009).

Ms Whitefield said: "It may well be that, in the context of a tight financial settlement, local authorities will have to question what it is they do and whether they could do it in different or better ways."

The "usual suspects" - councils, the teaching unions and the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland - would be invited to submit their views, she said. And members of the public could contribute.

The committee has also commissioned the Scottish Parliament Information Centre to research different models of education delivery in different parts of the UK and around the world. Its findings are due in August; in September, following the parliamentary summer recess, the committee will look at the topic in earnest. Ultimately, it may decide to launch an inquiry.

Since the committee was formed, following the May 2007 election, it has spent much time scrutinising Scottish Government policies such as free school meals, class sizes and the introduction of the new curriculum. This could be an opportunity for it to "add value", said Ms Whitefield.

Trust in East Lothian

East Lothian Council's proposal to hand schools over to "community educational trusts" was revealed in a consultation paper, published last year, about the stark spending choices it faced. It warned the council would have to make pound;3 million worth of cuts in 2010-11, and tight budgets would continue.

Educational trusts could cost less because they could "access additional funding from other sources, and may benefit from not having to pay rates", the council suggested.

Don Ledingham, its director of education and children's services, first raised the issue publicly in his regular TESS column last year ("Dependency culture must go", April 17). He argued that placing schools in educational trusts would give ownership back to communities, emulating the days of parish schools when Scotland was said to have led the world in education.

David Berry, leader of the SNP-run council, said the scheme would allow schools to make decisions based on local need. For example, cutting subsidised bus travel for pupils and hiring a Mandarin teacher instead.

However, Mr Ledingham admitted that devolving the entire budget for running education to communities "throws up as many questions as it answers".

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