Call for less state direction

18th April 2008 at 01:00
The head of education in Scotland's largest local authority, Glasgow, has called for the Government to stop issuing "national directives" on issues such as class sizes, to give councils more room for manoeuvre.

At a conference in Edinburgh this week about the concordat between central and local government, Margaret Doran, Glasgow's executive director for education and social work, welcomed the reduction in ring-fencing funds, which she claimed had "stifled creativity", and the new focus on outcomes.

Local authorities, Ms Doran said, have been "crying out for years" to get away from "the plethora of single funding streams" and to "try to make connections round the whole child, family and community".

However, she was critical of the Government for continuing with policies such as the reduction of class sizes to 18 in P1-3. "This matter was dictated and we now have to spend money on a one-size-fits-all model. Instead, we need to explore solutions together."

According to Ms Doran, the policy would cost over pound;14 million in staffing and pound;32.5 million in capital costs, assuming no composite classes. An estimated 68 schools would be affected, 397 teachers required and an extra 186 classrooms needed. "We would have to build huts in the grounds of brand new schools," she said.

Ms Doran questioned why, if central government was going to "stand back from micro-managing", councils were not free to consider other ways of ensuring pupils received more individual attention. This could include increasing team-teaching or the numbers of child and family social workers.

Ms Doran was also sceptical about another Government drive: the pound;5 million pilot study giving free meals to P1-3 pupils, which has been running in five local authority areas, including Glasgow. "It doesn't look good," she said.

She pointed out that the average lifespan in the east end of the city was 54 years and said the uptake of school meals was only 14 per cent.

"If young people would rather go to the local shops and eat rubbish, rather than food with no sugar, no salt and no chocolate, we need to respond locally by listening to children and young people," she said.

The opposite view of funding was taken by the Prince's Trust Scotland, which claims it is being forced to stop offering support to more than 1,000 disadvantaged children, thanks to the concordat.

Last year the Prince's Trust had a budget of pound;4 million, comprising pound;3 million of public money and pound;1 million of private funding. To get its hands on public cash this year, it had to broker deals with each of Scotland's 32 local authorities, instead of dealing directly with the Government. In spite of embarking on a three-month tour of the country, the charity, which last year worked with all Scotland's councils, estimated it will now have a presence in a maximum of 25. Among the areas missing out, director Geraldine Gammell told the conference, were some of the most deprived in Scotland.

Tight budgets were also preoccupying Bill McGregor, general secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland. A survey of its members had shown that cuts to school budgets were resulting in fewer Advanced Highers, and schoolcollege partnerships were suffering because schools could not afford the buses to transport pupils.

His complaints were given short shrift by Ms Doran, whose advice was to "get real" and look at new ways of working.

"If you have a minority subject with one teacher to five pupils, it's not going to work and you have to be brave and challenge that. Try to find other solutions, like consortium arrangements between schools."

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