Ministers given power to step in

15th October 2004 at 01:00
The controversial Bill giving ministers interventionist powers over schools and education authorities cleared its final hurdle in the Scottish Parliament last week, with even its backers playing down its significance.

"Small but important" was how it was described by Peter Peacock, Education Minister. A "modest little Bill (which) is hard to get excited about" was the view of Robert Brown, Liberal Democrat convener of the parliamentary education committee.

Opposition members were more dismissive. Brian Adam, for the SNP, suggested it was a "miserable little piece of legislation" which even its supporters had damned with faint praise.

Mr Adam joined forces with Rosemary Byrne of the Scottish Socialist Party to argue that the Bill was unnecessary since powers of intervention already exist and there was no evidence of schools or authorities refusing to implement recommendations in HMI reports.

Mr Peacock continued to insist that there are no existing powers to require schools and authorities to take action on HMI recommendations, and the Bill filled that gap.

He told MSPs of one secondary school - which he did not name but which is thought to be Rothesay Academy - which had no aspects of its performance rated very good or good by HMI and had a string of fair and unsatisfactory gradings. What would opposition members do about that, he demanded to know? Ms Byrne's riposte, however, was that evidence of failure to act would have to be based on follow-up inspections, not on an initial inspection.

The Bill, which was passed by 68 votes to 51 with no abstentions, also tightens up the regulations governing independent schools. "It is appropriate to examine the propriety of teachers in the private sector as, unlike those in the state sector, not all will have had their propriety checked by the General Teaching Council for Scotland," Euan Robson, the Deputy Education Minister said.

As if on cue, HMI released a report this week on Living Waters School in Bellshill, a Christian school for primary pupils which is only provisionally registered and had six pupils at the time of the inspection in June.

Staff worked on an unpaid, voluntary basis and the headteacher, who had no formal teaching qualification, "recognised that her expertise in leading a primary school was limited".

The report described the overall quality of education at the school as fair and the Scottish Executive must now decide whether it should be fully registered.

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