Who should run schools?

26th March 2010 at 00:00
Scottish Labour Party considers policy to take education out of local authorities' hands

The Scottish Labour Party could go into the Holyrood elections next year on a platform of removing education from local authority control.

Its conference this weekend will consider a policy consultation paper which moves cautiously in that direction.

The need for radical change has the heavyweight support of Peter Peacock, the former Labour Education Minister, who believes education should be run by 12 regional "boards" which would be responsible for all spending on schools.

The party's policy paper raises the question of whether the present system of 32 separate authorities in charge of education "is the most effective and efficient use of resources". It points out that colleges and universities are funded directly by central government and run by governing bodies.

The paper continues: "We need to look at what should be determined by national policy, what is best decided at local government level and what decisions should be left at school level."

Mr Peacock argues that reforming council control of education must be accompanied by much more devolution of authority to headteachers. He has admitted that he wanted to do so when in office, but was thwarted.

His view is that greater powers for heads is possible now because "the calibre of our headteachers is truly outstanding (which) has not always been the case".

Des McNulty, Labour's current education spokesperson, is refusing to commit himself in advance of party discussions. But he told The TESS: "Education has lost out over the last two to three years as a result of the concordat between local and national government, and the imposed council tax freeze which has reduced council income at a time when the Scottish Government's budget has increased by pound;900 million. So the current structure is not really working for education."

Mr McNulty said Labour would not return to its previous policy of ring- fencing education budgets, but he said there was a need to look "critically" at issues such as whether Scotland needed 32 educational psychology services, for example, and whether more services could be shared.

Ironically, Labour now appears to be questioning council control of education at the same time as the SNP Government. The fall in teacher numbers and lack of progress on class size reductions provoked Fiona Hyslop, the former Education Secretary, to announce last November that ministers would hold discussions with the local authorities on "whether the Scottish Government needs to examine alternatives to the current system of local government delivery of education policy".

This ferment has come at a time when East Lothian Council is leading debate on the management of schools. Don Ledingham, its director of education, argues that the budgetary pressures on councils are such that defenders of the status quo are living in "cloud cuckoo land".

A spokesman for the Scottish Government described Mr Peacock's suggestion as "a radical proposal that will no doubt initiate a serious debate". But ministers have "no current plans" to review the number of education authorities.

Neil Munro, neil.munro@tes.co.uk.

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