SECONDARY heads, collectively, are a disgruntled bunch. The barons of the education service complain about being squeezed out of national and local post-McCrone talks they say they should be at the centre of. They say there is therefore no clear steer on the future of their management structures. "Utterly baffled" was one experienced head's remark that drew warm applause at the Headteachers' Association of Scotland conference last weekend (page five). Heads also add concern about diminishing control over budgets that can run to pound;3 million. Cynicism about the recent financial actions of their local authorities is strong: what is given with one hand is often removed with the other, they claim.
This unhappiness is compounded by the experience of colleagues south of the border who enjoy the sort of freedom and largesse Scottish heads now envy - because of a Fifer's generosity. Gordon Brown's Budget windfalls go straight to schools without passing through the hands of predatory local authority finance officers. Jack McConnell, the First Minister, has recently supported some shift towards that position while retaining schools within local authorities. He would no doubt have been influenced by East Lothian's unwise decision earlier this year to siphon off education money to social work.
We do not hear voices shouting for an end to local authority responsibility over large secondaries. But heads are pressing for more autonomy. As schools win powers, local authorities lose them. Some have seen it coming and Glasgow's pilot learning communities initiative which jointly funds secondaries and their cluster primaries is one illustration. Beyond that, heads will demand a Teflon financial system that carries cash from the Scottish Executive to their bank account without losing fragments en route to the local authorities.
An accommodation should surely be possible which would allow schools and education authorities to stick to their positions, provided they play to their strengths.