Don't ditch the director

21st November 2003 at 00:00
Frank Pignatelli was asked a straight question about the value added to schools by local authorities and replied with a forthright answer at the secondary heads' conference in St Andrews (page four). Eight years after leaving the former Strathclyde Region where he was the power in the land with a pound;1.2 billion budget, he has now repented and accuses former colleagues in the directorates of harassing headteachers, blowing taxpayers' cash and adding little to the work of schools. He admits he was guilty of excessive centralisation and failed to trust heads to run their schools. How far have we moved on?

Unfortunately for directors who meet for their annual conference today (Friday), many headteachers share this view that interfering directors limit scope for action and cling on to funds that should come their way.

Many claim they are unable to speak out for fear of upsetting their employers. So there is tension. Nothing new there.

Mr Pignatelli is unsure what would replace authorities but would definitely cut their number. In a country of 5 million people, 32 is too many, he argues. Others, such as Jim Anderson, the directors' new president, might agree. One option for Mr Pignatelli might be the education and library boards model in Northern Ireland but then again similar constructs like Scottish health boards do not exactly shine. Another is direct funding from the Scottish Executive.

But Mr Anderson is right when he says that one, or even several, education authorities for Scotland would be "unhelpfully monolithic". He is also right that groups of schools would want to band together and very soon education authorities would be reinvented under another name. Heads have to live with that reality.

Talk is also confined to secondaries. But what about primaries and special schools? Where would they fit in? Then there are issues such as closing schools, dealing with placing requests or budgets for special educational needs and now the main role of authorities in assuring quality in individual schools. The alternatives do not inspire confidence. Incremental devolution of control to heads is the rational approach we can all sign up to.

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