Education Scotland could be a beauty or a beast of an organisation to work with

13th January 2012 at 00:00
The most frightening part for Scotland will come if nothing changes and nobody adapts

Should education leaders fear the expansion of Education Scotland's powers as they look forward to what 2012 will bring? It rather depends on how one sees school education being delivered.

Local authority directors of education are right to fear that it may mean the gradual centralisation of decision-making towards a less than arms-length body that will clearly take instruction from the cabinet secretary. After all, why would the government merge Her Majesty's Inspect-orate with Learning and Teaching Scotland if not to emasculate both and reshape them into something with its own outlook?

Whether it turns out to behave like Frankenstein's monster rather depends on the brain it is given.

For now the creature should behave with all the creativity and well-meaning benevolence of Michael Russell - but what if it were to have a transplant in a year? How would it behave if its actions were to follow the thoughts of Fergus Ewing, or a Labour minister such as Hugh Henry - or, perish the thought, the Tory Liz Smith?

The teaching unions are divided yet again, with some looking forward to the new bureaucracy while others are more apprehensive. That some are less frightened than others about any erosion of local management should come as no surprise, when councils have been willing to sacrifice teachers' pay and conditions in an effort to balance their books or keep central government sweet (the supply teachers' situation being the latest example).

For some union leaders, dealing with Education Scotland looks more attractive than working with Cosla - for the moment - but that may change over time, especially if the employers are no longer the councils but central government or, worse for the unions, individual schools.

There are those who see local authorities as the main obstacle to greater diversity in education provision, so jealously do they guard against competition within their fiefdoms (whether from Rudolf Steiner or business-sponsored state schools) and yet they fear Education Scotland, believing that central government will prove even more resistant to change.

While I lament the passing of the inspectorate - not least because it offered a credible alternative view in support of teaching standards against vested interests - it may yet offer hope to those who want reform. If Scotland is to change the way it does things, it will still need some checks and balances provided from the centre - countries with more diverse, plural and competitive systems still require central quality controls and rules.

Whether Education Scotland is to be a monster rampaging across the land or a force for good is in the hands of its creators.

The greatest disappointment will come if, after all the upheaval, nothing changes at all and Scotland is left drifting further behind those countries willing to adapt to present-day demands.

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