Fears over role of Scots assembly

23rd February 1996 at 00:00
The prospect of a Scottish parliament received less than full-hearted endorsement during a two-day conference in Crieff last week, which considered whether the legislature would be a "friend or foe to local government". The issue will come to the fore next week when Labour will propose that the assembly should have powers to close "failing schools".

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said: "We would want to guard against a Scottish parliament controlling education from the centre, given that Scotland has with some success fought against the uniform and centralist curriculum and assessment system imposed south of the border. It would be unfortunate, for example, if a Scottish parliament legislated that every pupil should do half-an-hour of homework every night."

A pledge from Marion Ralls, national secretary of the Campaign for a Scottish Parliament, that "the parliament would be in partnership with the Scottish people not a boss" did not allay doubts.

Jim Wyness, who will chair the education committee of Aberdeen City Council, wondered what the role for local authorities would be if, as he feared, a Scottish parliament legislated too closely on education.

Mr Wyness, Lord Provost of Aberdeen and a former secondary teacher at Hazlehead Academy, added: "I would be happy to see the parliament lay down certain basic rules and leave education authorities with local powers. Otherwise it's back to the Forsyth saga of centralisation and interference, which the Labour Party is perfectly capable of doing."

Ms Ralls pointed out that elections would be by proportional representation, "so no one party will be in a dominant position with its manifesto ruling supreme". But William Hendry, one of two Conservatives on East Dunbartonshire Council, said this would produce minority government 'which is bad news for education'. Mr Hendry suggested that the new councils should be the driving force for education policy-making. Four Strathclyde regional councillors represented East Dunbartonshire.

Mr Hendry said. Under the new council there would be 26, with church, parent, and teacher representatives on the education committee. "You cannot get more democratic or nearer the grass-roots than that," he argued.

Advocates of a Scottish parliament want it to operate more openly than Westminster, replicating the local authority pattern of outside representatives on committees. This was supported by Mr Smith of the EIS. But Mr Wyness believed it could undermine Labour's arguments against unelected quangos. "You would also get a lot of middle-class parents flooding in," he added.

Alan Scott, local EIS secretary in East Lothian, stressed the importance of establishing "principles and vision" before structures and powers.

Janet Law, who chairs the education committee in the SNP-run Perthshire and Kinross Council, said: "There is consensus about proceeding by national agreement. The question is the balance between what should be decreed nationally and what is best left to local determination."

The relationship between a Scottish parliament and education will receive another airing in May during a conference organised by the EIS and the Scottish Constitutional Convention.

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