Councils should be stripped of education remit

7th January 2011 at 00:00
EIS backs reduction in number of local authorities and a new structure for education management

Responsibility for education should be removed from local authorities and transferred to 12 dedicated education boards, Scotland's largest teaching union has proposed.

The Educational Institute of Scotland has become the latest body to give its backing to a reduction in the number of local authorities and a new structure for education management.

School Leaders Scotland, representing secondary heads and deputes, declared its support for education boards last year in its submission to the Scottish Parliament education committee's inquiry into school management.

Until now, the EIS has remained a stalwart supporter of the traditional local authority model. Its shift in allegiance appears to have been prompted by growing concerns over implementation of the concordat agreement between central and local government, along with the impact of spending cuts on schools.

Ronnie Smith, EIS general secretary, said: "Education boards, focusing purely on education, would have a clear responsibility for school education at a local level and could have clear benefits in terms of ensuring consistent delivery of nationally-agreed educational priorities and policies. However, it would be equally important to have proper democratic accountability within the boards so that local views and priorities are not overtaken."

All too often, important national policies, notably class-size reduction and the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence, had been diluted at local levels, he added.

"As the concordat proved, you cannot seek to deliver such national priorities while at the same time promising more freedom to councils to set their own priorities on education," said Mr Smith.

He dubbed the Scottish Government's recent budget deal with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities as a "Concordat Mark II" and described it as "a shopping list of desired Government priorities without any levers to ensure that they are delivered".

The deal includes a council tax freeze, a commitment to increasing teacher jobs, a freeze on entry to the chartered teacher scheme, the removal of conserved salaries for teachers and a cut in supply teachers' pay rate.

Cosla's education spokeswoman, Isabel Hutton, hit back at the EIS's comments, calling them "sadly predictable stuff".

She commented: "There is a debate to be had about how the future shape of the public sector meets the financial challenge, but this sort of one- dimensional, simplistic, off-the-shelf analysis will not get us very far.

"If I was a teacher marking this statement, the EIS would definitely get a `must try harder'."

Cosla had always said it was prepared to review the shape of the public sector, but "you cannot cherry-pick parts for special treatment", she said.

"There are good reasons why education should continue to be a local authority service, not least because of last year's record exam results and the support of international bodies such as the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development)," Councillor Hutton added.

The Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association has also expressed a lack of faith in local authorities' handling of education.

Councils did not have enough knowledge of education systems and arrangements to be fully aware of the impact of their cuts on education budgets, said Ann Ballinger, its general secretary.

It was questionable whether some would continue to meet their legal obligations, particularly under legislation regarding additional support for learning, she added.

"Within education, it is of particular regret that many authorities are significantly reducing their spending on services for pupils with additional needs. Most obviously, classroom assistant posts are being lost. This action targets the most vulnerable and does little to inspire confidence in the ability of certain authorities to do other than attack the soft targets," Ms Ballinger said.

  • Original headline: Councils should be stripped of education remit, union says

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