The powers of logic

21st May 2004 at 01:00
For students of logic, the current parliamentary committee hearings into the Ministerial Powers and Independent Schools Bill make a fascinating case study. The contentious part of this Bill is the proposal that ministers should have powers to intervene in schools following inaction over the recommendations in an HMIE report.

In the "pro" corner, ministers claim that this is no more than a closing of the gap left by the 2000 Education Act. In the "anti" corner, local authorities argue that ministers already have the necessary powers to intervene under section 70 of the 1980 Act and that the legislation is therefore a waste of time. Both are agreed it is impossible to think of an actual scenario when the powers might be used.

When challenged to say why they were objecting to the legislation if, according to their own evidence, it was doing no more than replicating the existing situation, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities resisted the temptation to say it was pretty daft for ministers to pass the same legislation twice and couldn't give any other answer.

However, the minister kindly did. Peter Peacock said that section 70 only allowed him to intervene when there was a breach of statutory duty. As HMIE recommendations were not statutory, he needed these new powers to intervene when they were not being fulfilled. Once the new legislation was invoked, then breach of HMIE recommendations became a breach of statutory duty and so he was able to act under the section 70 powers - if you're still on this merry-go-round. All this remained hypothetical because still no one could give any concrete example of when this might happen.

So if this legislation is necessary to enable the minister to access the 1980 legislation, the real killer was delivered by Alex Easton of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland. He pointed out that under the new inspection regime inspectors went into schools that the inspectorate deemed to be failing and worked with them on action plans, so reporting that their recommendations were not being implemented would really reflect on a failure by HMIE. Well, it makes good theatre for students of logic.

Judith Gillespie

Development manager

Scottish Parent Teacher Council

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