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Councils are fundamental to Jack McConnell's plans, reports David Henderson

Local authorities will remain central to raising attainment in a comprehensive education system, "as long as I'm Education Minister", Jack McConnell reassured educational advisers at their annual conference last weekend.

"I do not subscribe to the view that schools and teachers should be able to change the world on their own," Mr McConnell told the Association of Educational Advisers in Scotland in Bellshill, effectively dismissing talk of removing education from council control and handing schools far greater responsibility for running their own affairs, an under-current among the chattering educational classes.

"Local authorities' role is fundamental to where we are trying to go," he insisted.

But in return authorities would be expected to drive up attainment and be seen to change and improve. "Nothing less will do," he stressed.

Mr McConnell added: "We believe that local government is up to the task - otherwise we would not have placed them centre-stage in this way. No education authority is perfect and all have to take responsibility for ensuring that they perform at the highest possible level."

Picking up his "far-from-perfect" theme, the minister went out of his way to praise East Dunbartonshire, the subject of a highly critical report from HM Inspectors, for aimng to go well beyond the initial improvement plans that were recommended.

Mr McConnell emphasised that authorities were under tough new legislative demands to tackle underachievement within the five new nationally agreed priorities and would have to report back on their performance and that of their schools. Education bosses would be expected to act when any school was not performing satisfactorily.

Departing from his text, he said that he believed a modern, flexible profession, as defined by the post-McCrone agreement, should mean teachers from successful departments or schools being seconded to others performing less well. "That means tough management at local level."

The role of the authority was to direct, support and challenge schools and ensure that "quality permeates both schools and authorities themselves". Survival of a locally delivered comprehensive system depended on making the changes he outlined.

In a now familiar refrain, Mr McConnell criticised policies that did not involve or originate with those on the ground. They had to be included early in policy-making as evidence of the new partnership in Scottish education.

Under questioning from advisers, Mr McConnell called for less advice for teachers on curriculum and assessment and more on organisation. As a teacher, he never had any guidance about managing time or resources.

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