The White Paper on Raising the Standard has been given one of the most ferocious receptions ever meted out by education authority leaders. Elizabeth Maginnis, education spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said it was "a laughing stock" which councils would only take seriously if the Conservatives won the election.
Mrs Maginnis told Cosla's education forum that the White Paper was a piece of "electioneering" and said: "To send a professional response would dignify it as a serious educational contribution."
Joan Orskov, Liberal Democrat chair of Aberdeenshire education committee, suggested the paper should be referred to the Accounts Commission on the grounds that it was an abuse of taxpayers' money. Mrs Orskov took particular exception to the claims for the Government's stewardship of education. An increase in the number of nursery pupils, improved pupil:teacher ratios, higher expenditure per primary pupil and reduced class sizes had all been achieved in the teeth of Government cutbacks, she said.
Val MacIver, Highland's education chairman, complained bitterly about another claim that Dornoch Academy, which opted out of Highland's control, had been able to save Pounds 10,000 on electricity charges "by shopping around". This was the result of an energy-saving scheme instigated by the council.
Gordon Jeyes, director of education in Stirling and a Cosla adviser. described the White Paper's proposals, which include compulsory teacher appraisal, mandatory testing in the first two years of secondary school, a pay review body and methods of classroom organisation, as "full of central direction and prescription in which the Government says it will consult on these things but only on how they are to be implemented".
Mr Jeyes said that the document "demeans councillors' responsibility for education and makes the pretence that what works in Shetland will also work in Easterhouse". He pointed out that the initial pioneering work on devolved management had taken place in Strathclyde, early intervention had been a Lothian initiative, nursery expansion was led by Fife and Tayside had developed strategies on bullying.
Mrs Maginnis summed up the all-party unanimity by dismissing the White Paper as "quite the most cynical document many of us have ever seen".
The proposals have also been given a hard time by individual councils. A detailed critique by Keir Bloomer, director of education in Clackmannan, said some aspects such as the emphasis on early intervention were welcome, others such as testing could not be judged until more details were available, and a third group such as the expansion of assisted places were "potentially pernicious".