The ties that bind

25th May 2007 at 01:00
New coalition administrations have widely-shared issues which will be of benefit to all pupils.

EDUCATION COULD be the glue that holds everything together in the radically altered map of Scottish local government, it was claimed this week.

As traditional enemies reach new accommodations to share power, John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, predicted that education could bind the new coalition administrations, given widely-shared attitudes to issues such as improving early years, reducing class sizes and investment in school buildings.

The future of rural schools may prove more contentious, however. "I think it's going to be more difficult to close small schools," said Mr Stodter.

"People who have been in opposition in the past have made some gain out of opposing rationalisation programmes."

Labour has overall control of only two councils - Glasgow and North Lanarkshire - while the SNP has more councillors overall. Unprecedented partnerships have been agreed in some authorities: in East Renfrewshire, Labour and the SNP are in coalition, while Labour and the Tories have banded together in East Dunbartonshire.

"I think (the increase in coalitions) is going to be beneficial in a sense, because a lot of consensus will be formed around education policy, nationally and locally," Mr Stodter said. "The conflict might arise elsewhere.

He added that working issue by issue makes for a "more challenging environment", where officers have to be more "consultative and thoughtful".

The local elections saw a glut of fresh-faced councillors elected. In Aberdeen, where Mr Stodter previously served as education director, the education spokeswoman is Kirsty West, a 21-year-old SNP councillor, while her brother, John, is deputy provost aged 18.

"I suspect there might be more need for officers with maturity and experience, because there are a lot of young people coming in," Mr Stodter said. "It must be tempting for people to want to come in and make an impact, but that needs to be balanced because (education) is a big service and affects every single young person."

KEY POWER SHIFTS

GLASGOW LABOUR

Glasgow is one of only two authorities - the other is North Lanarkshire - where Labour retains overall control but with a much reduced majority, the SNP having made substantial gains. Yet Gordon Matheson, the executive member for education and renewal, insists the prevailing spirit of co-operation will be prominent in Glasgow too.

Mr Matheson, who previously worked in economic development, human resources and as a lobbyist for a charity, knows his priority: "We stand and fall on whether we raise levels of attainment." He also wants to see self-evaluation for teachers, easily reachable childcare between 8am and 6pm, better behaviour, and a new or refurbished school building for every primary pupil.

EDINBURGH Lib DemSNP

Marilyne MacLaren, Lib Dem, is education convener in Edinburgh, formerly Labour. She believes coalitions find solutions that take longer but work better. "We may not be able to show improvement after six months, but I will be able to show real improvement after three years."

And with Scottish independence not an issue locally, her party's coalition with the SNP has a solid base of shared policies.

Although discussions still have to be held with the new director for children and families - Gillian Tee starts next week - Mrs MacLaren is focusing on numeracy and literacy levels, reducing offending, and step-ping up early intervention for under-5s in difficult situations. Looked-after children are also a priority.

EAST RENFREWSHIRE Labour SNPIndependentsLib Dem

Labour and the SNP have formed a coalition along with the Lib Dems and Independents, leaving the Tories alone in opposition - the council was previously LabourLib Dem. Officials are confident that national conflict between Labour and the Nationalists will not be mirrored locally, with the coalition keen to maintain the council's good reputation on education.

Work on new buildings for Barrhead and Eastwood high schools, as well as a further education college at Barrhead, is expected to continue.

EAST DUNBARTONSHIRE LabourConservatives

Labour and Tory councillors formed a minority administration, even though the SNP emerged as the largest party. Una Walker, education convener, said since every SNP member was newly elected, the parties agreed there would be greater stability if their more experienced councillors took power.

Mrs Walker, a Labour councillor and former teacher, said the priority was to continue the authority's often controversial public private partner-ship schoolbuilding programme.

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