SCHOOLS as we know them are unlikely to survive beyond the next decade, according to the chief executive of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.
Oonagh Aitken told a conference on public sector management in Peebles last week: "Who believes that buildings, classrooms, age-specific groupings, perhaps even national examinations, but certainly curricula controlled by anyone other than learners, will exist in 10 years' time?"
The imperatives are not wholly educational, however. Ms Aitken said that pound;1.3 billion is required if the stock of school buildings is to be maintained and brought up to standard. "Is that really the best use of our resources?" she asked. "Technological change (will) change everything we do."
Although the conference theme was management and leadership across the public sector, the implications for education were evident. The discussion reflected the unrelenting pressure likely to be maintained on schools to change traditional ways of doing things.
The watchwords were "modernisation" and "continuous improvement", which will almost certainly dominate ministers' expectations during the negotiations over the implementation of the McCrone report and influence HMI judgments in inspections of education authorities.
Jack McConnell, the Finance Minister, is in charge of the Scottish Executive's modernising government policy and made clear that his aim is to ensure that services to the public are not just improved continuously "but are world class and are seen to be so".
Leadership was the key, he said. "The best schools are led by the best headteachers - I see it in my own constituency."
Ms Aitken, a former teacher and education official, questioned whether the existing educational leadership was adequate for the task facing schools and stressed the value of "performance management" which should include full career appraisal of staff.
The conference heard a warning, however, that most attempts at change are ineffective. Amin Rajan, an academic who advises governments, local authorities and private companies, said that of 370 change programmes he has studied since 1989 only 7 per cent were successful. The ones that triumph pay attention not just to leadership but to the culture of an organisation.
Professor Rajan, who heads the Kent-based Centre for Research in Employment and Technology in Europe, said managers may look at the bottom line but leaders keep their eyes on the horizon. One of the purposes of leadership was to ensure "that ordinary people achieve extraordinary things, that common people have uncommon experiences".
The Executive has set up a Scottish Leadership Foundation as part of its drive to modernise government and the civil service. Zoe van Zwanenberg, chief executive designate, said that greater awareness by the public of their rights, particularly as use of the Internet spreads, and the blurring of boundaries between services would add to the pressures. "Knowledge will no longer be the province of the powerful."
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