Joint boards of education

3rd September 2004 at 01:00
Few tears were shed in 1996 when the old regions were wound up and their powers transferred to the 32 local authorities.

Notwithstanding the blatantly political nature of the move, the old authorities were widely perceived as top-heavy bureaucracies. And yet, it has to be conceded that administration has its place and ever more so in a world of complex legislation in such areas as employment rights, equal opportunities, health and safety, contractual CPD, public private partnerships, child protection etc. Small may be beautiful but it is often ineffective.

Of the councils so far inspected, only one has been rated "very good" for its improvement in school performance. The reason is partly that smaller authorities lack staff and expertise. As Bernard McLeary, former director of education in Inverclyde, which received that very good rating, said in his TES Scotland interview last week: "A small authority like Inverclyde has to respond in the same way as much larger places like North Lanarkshire with the much greater resources it can call on."

It is significant therefore that, as newly appointed chief executive of Learning and Teaching Scotland, Mr McLeary is planning to offer local authorities the assistance of seconded LTS staff.

However, if we are being completely honest, we might also say that some senior managers lack the personal qualities and the depth of experience required to be leaders who can both challenge and inspire. It would appear the Education Minister agrees. After visiting the antipodes, he said: "The span of their best leadership is wider than it is in Scotland. The quality is fragmented when you have 32 education authorities" (TESS, April 30).

What is required is not the re-establishment of behemoths like Strathclyde or Lothian, but it is clear that the Kilbrandon Commission was essentially right to count education as a strategic service which requires larger authorities than those which currently exist.

The answer is to legislate to permit local authorities to form joint boards of education, as is already the case for police and fire services. These joint boards would be subject to democratic accountability and control and would deliver the kind of service the children of Scotland deserve.

Peter Wright

West Lothian secretary

Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association

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