Who makes policy and who advises?

29th February 2008 at 00:00
In October last year, I sat in the public gallery of Aberdeen City Chambers to listen to councillors debating the merits or otherwise of A Strategy for Transforming Services for Children and Young People, which had been drawn up by the corporate director of strategic leadership.

There was no debate. No one questioned or challenged the director, although she was present and had indicated a willingness to accept questions. The clincher appeared to be that if the changes (that is, cuts) advocated in the strategy were not implemented, the council faced municipal bankruptcy.

The strategy proposes, among other things, discontinuing referring pupils with complex needs to out-of-authority schools and progressively bringing back those in such schools. If the councillors had taken time to look carefully at the strategy document, they would have noted that the city is not in a position to provide appropriate provision for the existing population of pupils with additional support needs - let alone absorbing those who would normally have been referred to out-of-authority schools.

There was one revealing moment in the city chambers, when a councillor inadvertently let slip that it was the role of the strategists to make policy. Colleagues quickly reminded him that councillors made policy; council officials advised! However, what this remark calls into question is the wisdom of councillors placing so much reliance on the inclusionist arguments advanced by the strategists. Great emphasis is placed in the strategy document on the importance of evidence-based research. Yet nowhere in it is there any reference to the extensive literature which challenges the educational and ethical grounds on which the case for inclusion rests.

The plan to close day special schools in Aberdeen and create two annexes at mainstream schools to house primary and secondary pupils with ASN has proved a failed formula elsewhere. The creation of two large facilities for pupils with ASN looks like a form of warehousing - a solution which does not sit comfortably in any inclusionist agenda.

If this strategy is implemented, there is a high probability that two residential special schools, Linn Moor and Camphill Rudolf Steiner Schools, which have a national reputation for excellence throughout Scotland, could face closure. Last year, Camphill Rudolf Steiner Schools received an outstanding inspection report from HMIECare Commission. Once such precious resources as these are closed, there is no likelihood that they can be re-opened.

The unrealistic deadline of 2010 for achieving many of its targets will inevitably mean that those charged with implementing the changes will operate with increasing secrecy and stealth in order to reach their goals. As for the ludicrous aspirational vision of being one of the leading councils in Northern Europe by 2010, Aberdeen councillors should take as their first priority providing services that match the best in the rest of Scotland.

Robin Jackson is an educational consultant.

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