30 years ago

7th April 2006 at 01:00
Early thoughts on current trends in school organisation surfaced in The TES Scotland of April 9, 1976, prompted by a visit to France by Derek Fowles, then head of St Margaret's High in Airdrie. He wrote:

The reorganisation of local government last May in Scotland had its counterpart in northern France where, in 1972, 87 townships joined together to form "la communaute urbaine de Lille" and to reap the benefits of large-scale economic planning and a powerful political lobby.

Such reorganisation, which in Scotland has caused problems particularly in Strathclyde and especially in education, did not have the same results in France. This was because of the centralised control exercised by the French ministry and because many of the more profound innovations that have affected education were introduced after the troubles of 1968.

The paradox of French education seems to be that, with what we would consider excessive centralised control over curriculum, staffing and timetabling, pupil and teacher possess a freedom that would be unthinkable in Scotland . . . There is a considerable degree of parental and pupil participation and none of the tensions that many teachers fear from such participation.

While French education is manifestly examination-orientated, there are no formal examinations except the public ones, and scholastic assessment is continuous . . .

There is a serious case for giving Scottish schools greater autonomy in the day to day running of their affairs and in reducing red tape. If each school in Scotland were given a specific sum out of which it had to meet all its expenses including the salaries of teachers and the costs of replacements, repairs, heating and lighting, considerable economy would be effected . . . and schools would have a real incentive to "watch the pennies".

In France, despite the centralised and autocratic system, a much greater trust and faith is placed in French teachers and the administrative staff of French schools. In Scotland, where the degree of political control and interference is much greater, the converse is true.

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