The future management of the education service is once again nearing the top of the agenda, 14 years after the 12 education authorities were replaced by 32. The current parliamentary inquiry into the management of schools (p1) is partly responsible. In turn, that has been prompted to an extent by the navel-gazing in East Lothian on school autonomy, which looks increasingly as if it is unlikely to travel well. In the 1990s, it was observed that "local school management" in England was about managing cuts rather than managing schools, so that the Government and local authorities would emerge from it all squeaky clean. Perhaps that suspicion still lingers.
Undoubtedly, the present moves to loosen the apron strings of local authorities in relation to schools are inextricably bound up with the fact that their purse strings are becoming increasingly threadbare. That is largely why an associated debate has sprung up on the future of education authorities themselves. Although John Swinney, the finance secretary, has set his face against reform, we firmly believe that having 32 authorities in charge of education in a country of five million people is not sustainable. This is not because of any organisational fetish: it's about capacity. There will be a premium on innovation and leadership in the testing times ahead, and the current structure is ill-equipped for the task.
Whether the answer lies in what appears to be a gradually-forming consensus for area boards to run education is a moot point. Returning to the pre-1996 days of nine large mainland regions would not strike the right balance between efficiency and democracy. A sensible starting point would be to investigate whether education authorities should be aligned with the 14 health boards. It would make professional as well as administrative sense and, arguably, be less disruptive.
Neil Munro editor of the year (business and professional magazine).