Big boys always win at tug of war;Leading Article

29th October 1999 at 01:00
THE fledgling Parliament is about to face another test. Consultation ends next week on the Education Bill, the first major piece of legislation. At the time when devolution was still only an aspiration, the framers of the new constitution insisted that the executive should not produce legislation out of the blue but have it preceded and influenced by consultation. The implication for a Bill aimed at raising school standards is that educational opinion - in local authorities and the unions, for example - should be taken into account.

Yet what happens if the weight of evidence puts in question not just details in what the Executive proposes but the basis on which the legislation is founded?

Analysis of some of the responses (page six) suggests that is what is intended.

Councils in particular take issue with the principle that central government knows best and that the raising of school performance should be led by the Inspectorate through its regime of measurements and targets.

In other words, the proposed legislation becomes part of the tug of war between central and local government. Sweet nothings about unity of purpose on school standards cloak a deep division. For the Executive to surrender to council responses and to the doubts of the unions would be to stifle the reason for the Bill. Yet it would not take many ministerial visits by Sam Galbraith and Peter Peacock to schools to show that councils' doubts about number-crunching are shared by teachers.

So who in the end will call the shots? The Executive, of course, in the time honoured Westminster way.

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