Executive's reforms 'may curb LEA powers'

16th June 2006 at 01:00
The general secretary of the EIS has warned that education authorities are likely to come under attack from the Scottish Executive's public service reform plans.

Ronnie Smith, in his address to the union's annual general meeting, cautioned that the Executive's agenda for making public service organisations more efficient might not stop at the so-called "back-office"

provision in the education service.

"At one extreme, some will argue that we should diminish, if not remove, local authority involvement with our schools and leave them to get on with it.

"I can understand how frustrated some teachers can get from time to time with what may appear to be the total absence of any obvious value being added by authorities to what goes on in our schools.

"At the other extreme, some will argue that local authorities need an enhanced role - not only in facilitating the necessary interactions among different services for children, but also in doing that which is better done at authority level.

"We would do well to reflect on how disruptive has been the atomisation of further education college provision and the woeful performance of a number of colleges, for example in HR functions. Just ask FE colleagues in James Watt College about that," he said.

Mr Smith added that it has become "fashionable" to argue for enhancing devolution to schools - "almost just to see how far you can go". But devolution was not an end in itself. It was about getting the right things done at the right level.

Problems in recruiting headteachers tended to be blamed on job-sizing and the post-McCrone agreement, he said. But there had been a 75 per cent drop in headteacher applications to primary schools in Ireland over the past two decades, and the National College for School Leadership in England was also reporting an unprecedented level of headteacher vacancies. The NCSL advocated the appointment of two headteachers to a school to share the workload burden and tempt more people to apply, so complex had the requirements of headship become.

Neither Ireland nor England had either job-sizing or McCrone. So maybe headteacher recruitment problems had "more to do with the steady transfer of responsibilities to schools from the centre and the incremental increase in expectations and accountabilities headteachers face", he suggested.

Mr Smith repeated the warning given at last year's AGM that "so-called philanthropists" were "sniffing around opportunities to get their hands on our schools and what they teach".

He acknowledged the Executive's commitment to support the local comprehensive school and accept contributions only where they fit with public policy objectives. "But the temptation will grow as the fiscal regime tightens," he said. "It probably wouldn't matter all that much if it was just a seat in the House of Lords that got flogged off in return for sponsoring a city academy - far more serious would be an auctioning of the right to determine what gets taught in our schools."

He also defended the implementation of the teachers' agreement, following the Audit Scotland report into whether it had been value for money.

"This agreement was not some exercise in public procurement, akin to the Government buying a new computer system - where, of course, value for money would be a key consideration," he said, contrasting the pound;2 billion cost of the agreement with the pound;1bn the Government had lost on unpaid tax credits.

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