New powers are overkill, Peacock told

16th January 2004 at 00:00
Ministers are wasting their time introducing extra powers to act against local authorities, according to councils.

Peter Peacock, Education Minister, has complained that he does not have the legislative clout to intervene if inspectors judge that an authority has not responded strongly enough to an HMI report on a school or council.

But Angus and East Renfrewshire say he does.

In its response to the Scottish Executive's consultation on Ensuring Improvement in our Schools, Jim Anderson, Angus's education director, counters that the minister already has the power to intervene and has no "strong legislative or practical case" for any extra laws. "It is not clear that there is a gap in existing legislation," Mr Anderson says.

Like Mr Peacock, he accepts that children have only one chance at school and that everyone has to be challenged to achieve the highest standards, but the director flatly dismisses the minister's drive for further powers and says that the necessary authority is already there under the 1980 and 2000 education Acts.

Mr Anderson believes that general powers allow ministers to step in when HMI rules that an authority has not done enough to secure improvement following an inspection.

John Wilson, director in East Renfrewshire, says there is already a "mature relationship between central and local government to ensure continuous improvement".

Existing quality assurance arrangements are a "tried and tested route to secure improvement" and the practice of employing associate assessors (council officers and headteachers) is a further indication of this partnership.

Mr Wilson says there is "to date no demonstrable evidence which would suggest that such intervention is necessary or indeed desirable". Local authorities as the legal provider of day school education are well placed to respond to the improvement agenda while "there has been no evidence of dramatically underperforming councils in the published reports so far".

Mr Anderson, president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, argues that it is "ironic" that the Executive wants more regulation of authorities while at the same time planning to increase the extent of devolved management to schools. The thrust of policy in delivering the five national priorities has been in closer working between HMI, ministers and councils.

"Against this background it is difficult to envisage a situation where any Scottish council would not consider recommendations by HMIE in a published inspection report to be anything other than requirements for action," Mr Anderson states.

"Where at present follow-up action is deemed by Her Majesty's Inspectorate to be insufficient, remedial action is always possible through the mature professional dialogue that characterises the partnership between HMIE and education authorities."

Little would be gained in introducing additional powers, Mr Anderson insists.

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