Make your case or be quiet, Russell tells Cosla

25th February 2011 at 00:00
Education Secretary challenges local authorities to win the argument over control of schools

Education Secretary Michael Russell has fired a warning shot across the bows of Cosla - the local authorities' umbrella body - challenging its members to "make their case" for retaining the power to manage schools, or risk losing the argument.

Although Mr Russell stops short of his predecessor's threat to remove schools from council control, he accuses Cosla of preferring to "shy away from talking about this subject".

Former Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop was moved to the culture brief after her frustration at councils' failure to deliver smaller class sizes and maintain teacher numbers spilled over.

Now Mr Russell has returned to the vexed subject of who manages Scotland's schools with a call for a national debate on the issue.

He told TESS: "One of the issues that I am keen to explore is whether we need to change the balance of power between national and local government, and between local government and schools."

The implementation of Curriculum for Excellence had given the country consensus on "what we teach"; the response to the Donaldson review would provide us with "teaching excellence"; and the McCormac review of the national teachers' agreement would provide stability within our workforce, he said. "However, with the impending cuts to public finances, we need to go further. We need to think more radically and more creatively about the delivery of public services," said Mr Russell.

"Failure to put your case will simply mean your case will not carry the day," he said, in a clear warning to Cosla.

In response, Isabel Hutton, Cosla's education spokesperson, said: "The debate on education should not be one of who has control of schools, but what is right for young people in 21st century Scotland.

"This has to be based on objective information and a sober analysis of what our strengths and weaknesses are, and how education is increasingly interlinked to other public services."

She added: "We seem to be at a turning point, after more than 10 years of devolution, where it seems voices may be raised in favour of increased centralisation, national direction and control of local services."

Cosla would find it hard to support this direction and would always stand up for local people having a direct say in how their education service was run, she said.

The times they are a-changing

East Lothian Council kicked off the recent debate on devolved school management with its proposals for community trust schools - although that plan has since been modified.

Stirling and Clackmannanshire councils are leading the way in adopting joint working practices - a move praised by Mr Russell.

The EIS teachers' union has also shifted its position on governance, suggesting that it was time to consider removing responsibility for education from local authorities and transferring it to 12 education boards.

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