Opting out of council's;Letter

23rd July 1999 at 01:00
RECENT ARTICLES in The TES Scotland concerning the future of local authority control of the education service provided interesting reading but do not move the issue forward.

David Cockburn (June 25) is right to point out that many education authorities have a tendency to pursue local political agendas rather than concentrating on supporting schools and trying to raise standards. But to suggest that an attractive alternative is an extension of delegated management, where individual schools would relate directly to the Scottish Executive Education Department, is to fly in the face of experience.

No doubt there were many reasons, both practical and political, why only two Scottish schools became self-governing. But almost certainly one of these was a concern that a central government education department would be too remote.

My experience when I acted as a Scottish Office consultant supporting the two self-governing schools was that the civil servants were ill-equipped to deal with the many day-to-day problems over which headteachers consulted them. The civil servant with whom I worked most closely confided in me that, since his own school days, his only visits to schools had been to attend parents' evenings in relation to his own daughters.

It is also appropriate for John Connell (July 16) to list the myriad of administrative, curricular and management tasks that have to be undertaken in order to deliver the education service. Despite his disclaimer that this need not be done by a local authority, he appears satisfied with the status quo and does not suggest any alternative arrangement.

It is far from clear why the best interests of the education service depend on an annual competition with the other disparate services provided by local authorities for a share of a block grant or on bids for ring-fenced allocations for the latest ministerial initiative. The education service also has to contend with the maze of regulations and procedures drawn up by finance departments, legal departments and personnel departments which have little knowledge of and often little interest in what will work effectively in schools.

Having now had three years to reflect on my 21 years in education directorates in both Scotland and England, it is with a feeling of regret and frustration that I recall the countless hours that I was forced to spend in debate and argument over trivia with other departments of the local authorities rather than in working with schools to improve quality and help raise standards.

The Scottish Parliament has declared that it wants to proceed by consultation and collaboration. It could make a good start by setting up a committee of inquiry into the administration of Scottish education, and then set out a series of alternative models for consultation.

Such a process would not meet the desire of many politicians to be seen to be doing things and producing instant solutions. It might be, however, that the result would be a genuine Scottish solution to one of Scotland's problems.

Ian Dutton Stichill, Kelso.

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