Editor's comment

5th September 2008 at 01:00

There was no expectation that education would feature strongly in the SNP Government's legislative programme for the coming year, and we are not disappointed. The key measures relate to the environment, criminal justice and the abolition of the council tax. Of course, the hallmark of concern on any subject cannot be measured by whether it is the subject of legislation. Whatever criticisms may be levelled at them, ministers have been active on the non-legislative front - from pressing on with their fraught plans to reduce P1-3 class sizes and curriculum reform to abolishing the graduate endowment fee and reshaping the skills agenda. They cannot be accused of ignoring what matters.

The proposed legislation which will affect education and children's services deals with three areas - additional support for learning, children's hearings and rural schools. The first two are essentially tidying-up exercises and should be largely uncontentious (although it is not clear at this stage whether all the concerns of the special needs community have been addressed). The Safeguarding Rural Schools Bill, however, is a different matter.

That bill is a curious mixture. It is as much about safeguarding rural Scotland as it is about keeping schools open, and expecting education authorities to pick up the tab (p8). It is dotting i's and crossing t's when the concordat is supposed to be giving councils more freedom. It is urging councils to do a lot of things they do already, such as setting out educational justifications for closure plans. It is drawing ministers further into one of the most contentious areas of education, which will win them few friends. And it is undermining the principle that decisions are best taken closest to those whom they affect, which we thought was SNP policy.

Local politicians should be forced to face up to the consequences of local decisions, and national politicians should let them.

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