Blinkered view of councils;Letter

30th July 1999 at 01:00
IT'S A little difficult to take Ian Dutton (TESS, July 23) seriously as a commentator these days, especially when all he has to offer is a post facto attempt to rationalise his appointment by the previous government to the most pointless post ever devised in Scottish education.

This was the man who moved from a position of director of education to that of apologist for the groundless attempt to persuade Scottish schools to opt out of local authority control.

His own evident antipathy towards local government and our elected members is scant explanation for his earlier naivety.

The same naivety leads him to the absurd notion that there is a promised land where education can escape the irritations of having to compete for resources against "other disparate services".

It is a simple, inescapable fact that the political process is all about the distribution of resources, a fact that remains just as true at a national level as at a local level. And the rationale behind all such resource allocations is ultimately political, whether determined by local councillors, MSPs or the Scottish Executive.

Perhaps Mr Dutton believes that education would be run much more effectively if left to the professionals. Fortunately, the sheer scale of the resources required by a modern education system renders such a possibility simply untenable. The obligation of accountability to the people who give us those resources cannot be evaded.

There is also a breathtaking naivety (given his "21 years in education directorates") in his charge against the various local authority central support services (financial, legal, human resources) that they promote a "maze of regulations and procedures" which simple educationists such as he were forced to negotiate.

A brief glance at the multilayered labyrinth of local and national agreements that circumscribe the operation of local authority education departments and schools will quickly put this into perspective. And these were put in place by people who are supposed to know what "will work effectively in schools".

In laying such a charge, Mr Dutton merely slips into the kind of insular departmentalism that a number of innovative authorities have been trying to eradicate over the past three years (and which some of Neil McIntosh's recommendations might help redress).

It is my experience that a relationship of genuinely mutual respect and trust between politicians and professionals, a respect that includes an understanding of the differing but equally valid motivations of both, can provide the basis for innovative, fruitful and mutually acceptable development of an education service.

Such a relationship is not easy to achieve, and once achieved can be harder to maintain, but it is certainly worth working towards by all concerned.

Maybe Ian Dutton has simply never been able to envisage such a possibility - a decided handicap for any director of education in a Scottish local authority.

John Connell Upper Loan Park, Lauder Leader, page 10

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