Devolution gathers pace ahead of polling day

18th March 2011 at 00:00

With only one more day of parliamentary business to go before Scottish politicians hit the campaign trail, these really are the last moments of the country's first SNP government. And they're clearly going out with a flourish.

A last-minute string of announcements has protected Scottish students from having to pay for a university education and rescued the Plockton School of Traditional Music and the Scottish Sensory Centre in Edinburgh, with new sources of finance. The parliamentary education committee has given its recommendations on the future of local authority funding for education, and David Cameron has given his recommendations for the future of devolved school management - how much of these will now be implemented depends, of course, on which party returns to power.

Whoever it is, we can expect to see major changes to the management of schools. By all accounts, the recommendations of the Cameron review chime closely with the cross-party committee's call for greater federation of schools. And if schools are given total control of their budgets to deliver Curriculum for Excellence, and clusters of schools are even put in the position of employing their own teachers, the writing could be on the wall for local authorities. It will be intriguing to see how that idea plays out among teachers incensed by current attempts to cut their pay and conditions. Cosla, the local authority umbrella organisation, contests that none of these moves will save money (p6), but decisions will have to wait until the Christie Commission reports on the future delivery of public services, sometime in June.

Parents and schools in our News Focus (p12) seem happy with the move toward more local control in East Lothian. They rejected education director Don Ledingham's proposal for community trust schools, where the entire budget would be devolved to a community trust, because of fears they would have to run the school and they didn't want that responsibility. But they welcome the new model of school clusters, which will start in August and bring together nursery, primary and secondary and work with businesses in the community. At the heart of both models lies the idea that "it takes a community to raise a child". Education boards are the other proposition, backed by former education minister Peter Peacock (Labour), School Leaders Scotland and, with reservations, the EIS union. It too would remove schools from local authority control but, this time, put it in the hands of a dozen education boards.

Whichever model emerges, devolution is clearly on a roll. In just over a decade, power has moved from Westminster to Holyrood, and now it looks set to be passed down to local communities, one way or the other. Which way that will be, will depend on the party in power after the May elections.

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