Diversity is the dish of the day

26th April 1996 at 01:00
A preliminary glance at the education scene in some of the new councils offers an intriguing gleam of optimism. Diversity is cheeringly often the dish of the day, served with the sauce of optimism plus a healthy dash of competitiveness. The giant Lothian for example has no sooner thrown off its mortal coil than little East Lothian announces - via glossy leaflet through every door - its intention to do what its august parent never achieved: find an Pounds 8 million windfall for upgrading schools.

West Lothian, too, plans to shake off its ramshackle legacy of a Pounds 25 million repairs backlog. For newbuild, extensions, refurbishments it intends to look to the Government's private finance initiative. So does Falkirk, currently planning a substantial package of building works, and aiming to attract significant external investment. And Falkirk has taken the innovatory step of putting parents (two) on the education committee.

The fourth smallest mainland authority, Moray, has achieved Scottish Office Education and Industry Department funding for a pilot project to employ staff to negotiate with outside interests to provide in-service training. Another market opportunity here?

Several councils aim to target poor literacy and numeracy skills in school leavers (arguably the outstanding failure of the regional legacy) by focusing on early intervention. Borders goes further, with a planned "production school" along Scandinavian lines to pick up leavers needing help.

Aberdeenshire contemplates a commercial arm to the authority to generate income across a range of activities: staff development, courses and materials. The penny has dropped here that if the council fails to market its not inconsiderable expertise the gap will be filled from elsewhere. This is another idea whose time has come.

Perhaps Argyll and Bute has a market opportunity with eight out of 10 of Strathclyde's outdoor centres. Renfrewshire, though, contemplates buying in outdoor education from the voluntary sector.

Experience of successful and popular delegated management of schools is now moving to areas such as Clackmannan as senior ex-Strathclyde personnel take up new posts. Even the ritual incantation in Labour strongholds that ever-greater funding equates with ever-better results seems now to be under question. In Glasgow, of all places. Here a stubborn relationship with underachievement has persisted over 20 years despite Strathclyde's policy of pouring millions into deprived areas (currently Pounds 6 million in the form of 369 extra staff).

So what is missing if not cash? Malcolm Green, returning to the Glasgow education brief, promises a review of the strategy, and says "the same schools are in the same position, and the same gaps are still there". But his director Ken Corsar has already pointed at the reason: low expectations. "It's the Glasgow syndrome: the excuse for poor performance is that 'it's Glasgow: what can you expect?'" A diagnosis not, of course, unique to Glasgow.

A few (too few) councils have gone for the leaner sleeker management structures somewhat optimistically expected by Government. To the rest, Mr Corsar has a warning. "If schools don't see added value from the authority, sooner or later they will question its relevance." That view is echoed by Aberdeen's director: "Schools must feel there is value in belonging to the club."

The Swot formula is a classic management tool: analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. There is more evidence than the Scottish media generally cares to admit that fresh-start thinking and enterprising approaches are surfacing in some of Scotland's councils. Even a sprinkling of imaginative innovation points to the small-scale potential of diversity. Indeed it is only by venturing down untrodden routes that education authorities will map out their own survival.

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