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A week in education

Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop is continuing her efforts to bring together the two parents organisations in one national body. The Scottish Parent Teacher Council and the Scottish Parent Councils Association (representing the former school boards) have been reluctant to join forces. But Ms Hyslop said such a decision could only be made by parents themselves, not the Government, and she attempted to get the ball rolling by releasing the results of a survey of 500 parent councils which showed that 80 per cent supported the move. Parent councils are now being invited to a national conference at Hampden on June 13 to discuss the creation of a unified organisation.

A new resource, the Autism Toolbox, is being sent to every school and education authority in Scotland to ensure they are up-to-date with the latest guidance and research on the subject. Funded by the Scottish Government, it was developed by the National Centre for Autism Studies at Strathclyde University. Its lead director, Aline-Wendy Dunlop, said the toolbox aimed to deliver "comprehensive, inclusive education for children with autism."

The Scottish Parliament's petitions committee is to investigate a plea from Aberlady Primary parent council in East Lothian to allow pupils full-fat milk if they wish. Nutritional regulations recommend semi-skilled milk as "the default milk of choice", but full-fat milk is accepted for the youngest children where there is concern about their growth. The committee is to raise the issues with the Government and NHS Scotland.

Equipping people to beat the recession proved to be the theme of the week as Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop announced an easing of restrictions on individual learning accounts. The qualifying income thresholds for low-income learners aged 16 and over will be raised from Pounds 18,000 to Pounds 22,000. This will extend eligibility to an extra 250,000 people, nearly half the adult workforce.

A Pounds 25 million package to boost skills and training was unveiled by First Minister Alex Salmond in his speech to the SNP conference at the weekend, as part of a Pounds 95 million recession-busting initiative. The cash for training will go to 79 projects, with funding coming from the European Social Fund. It includes an extra Pounds 1.3m for Skills Development Scotland to help those facing redundancy and Pounds 943, 580 to the CREATE (Create Equal Access to Education) project at Adam Smith College in Kirkcaldy and Glenrothes.

Education in South Ayrshire received a largely positive endorsement from the Accounts Commission this week in an otherwise highly critical assessment of the council's poor management, serious financial situation and lack of a culture of continuous improvement. Based on HMIE findings almost five years ago, the commission notes very good strategic management and very high quality of leadership in education. But the report says that educational attainment, while above the national average, is beginning to slip.

The Scottish Funding Council has amended its 2008-09 grant figures for three further education colleges, James Watt, Oatridge and North Highland. This marginally reduces the total to Pounds 507,457,000 for the current academic year, which means next year's Pounds 520,779,000 is an average increase of 2.6 per cent.

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