Aberdeenshire is set to safeguard the future of community education by bringing the service under an integrated management structure, focused on local school networks. The initiative will create "some security for community education staff", Michael White, the council's director of education, said.
Mr White told a seminar last week: "With the present budget cuts, community education is clearly under threat and we need to form networks to ensure the survival of the best elements of Scottish state education."
The move aims to deliver a single education service committed to lifelong education. The council's 24 area community education management committees would be replaced by 16 local education networks based on school groups and backed by six area education forums, involving local people and councillors.
Peterhead, for instance, has a secondary school, swimming pool and community centre on one site with three separate heads and three budgets. Under the new proposals, a bursar would manage a unified budget freeing staff to carry out other duties.
Mr White said: "If the network of establishments is not in place, the service could see a gradual decline into competition and rivalry between schools, increasing pressures to retract to a schools-only service, serious pressures on small rural primary schools and increasing threats to small secondary schools from the further education service."
He added: "Without the co-operative support of professionals and local people working together with elected members and officers, there would be a fragmentation of education into a series of autonomous units each working in isolation."
Aberdeenshire's initiative comes as community education budgets and grants to voluntary organisations are slashed, professional jobs lost and parts of the service axed. Glasgow faces the most serious losses with 50 posts set to go, saving about Pounds 1 million.
Almost 500,000 people a week take part in community education activities across the country, according to a Scottish Office statistical analysis released this week. Fifty-four per cent were adults meeting in groups, 22 per cent were children and 20 per cent young people. The remaining 4 per cent were adults in one-to-one contact with community education providers.
A third of participants were "in receipt of substantial educational support", varying from 25 per cent of adults to 47 per cent of young people. The rating means participants were involved with education and management staff for at least 50 per cent of the time or that staff gave at least 10 hours of their time over a three-month period.
The Government estimates the total figure for community education spending at Pounds 102 million in 1995-96 and puts the number of paid staff at 12,200, 9,100 in temporary or sessional posts.
Charlie McConnell, chief executive of the Scottish Community Education Council, writing in this week's TES Scotland (Platform, page 18), says that more than a million people are involved if figures for the voluntary sector are included representing nearly a quarter of the population. In 1979, it was estimated only 6 per cent of the population were involved.
Mr McConnell argues that Scotland cannot afford to have large sections of the population untouched by continuing education. "Scotland's participation rates in continuing education are among the lowest of OECD countries. On both social justice and economic grounds there is a growing recognition by both central and local state of a need to reach out to non-participants and to attract them back into learning and community development," he writes.
Mr McConnell maintains it is wrong to tie up 99 per cent of public expenditure on education within formal school, college and university settings.