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Why all eyes are on the council that broke ranks

Power, success, happiness and good luck are associated with the year of the dragon, we're told in this week's News Focus on links with China (pages 12-15). They'll all be needed by Scottish schools and colleges facing their own cultural revolution in 2012.

East Renfrewshire is the first local authority to break ranks over the government's start date for the new National 4 and 5 exams (page 5). It's a dramatic step for a whole authority to reject the government's official start date of 2014, particularly one of East Renfrewshire's standing.

It will set alarm bells ringing for a lot of authorities still waiting for details of the new exams, and the fallout for the government and Scottish Qualifications Authority will be a nightmare. But it shouldn't come as a total surprise.

As TESS revealed last summer (4 June, 2011), the exams authority was prepared for departments sitting Intermediates to be granted a year's extension on an "exceptional basis", while Standard grades would cease in 2013. What it didn't want was whole schools doing it, and it certainly didn't seem to contemplate a whole authority doing it. But that loophole has given East Renfrewshire the opening it required; all its schools sit Intermediates.

Add to that the lack of clarity over university entry requirements, which we highlighted last month, and it is a sensible decision from the point of view of a conservative council with high-achieving pupils and parents focused on competitive academic courses.

It is not helpful from a national perspective, but what council, or school, would be prepared to risk its pupils' success for others' benefit? Even those who have greater faith in the new curriculum and exams have serious worries about the current schedule. So the government can expect a barrage of schools to follow suit.

If East Renfrewshire causes gasps with its announcement over schools, so will the Griggs report on colleges (page 6). There is remarkable clarity in Professor Griggs' recommendations for the new regional structures: 12 single boards, each with 12 members, and a chair to be approved by the cabinet secretary. But the extent to which colleges are being drawn back under government control is astonishing. Any financial reserves exceeding 10 per cent to be handed over; major capital projects to be decided by government; strategic leadership to come from government; and a return to national pay bargaining. Whatever happened to independence? Ironic, really, under an SNP government.

So, power shifting in the FE sector; success in academic attainment being guarded by East Renfrewshire; add to those, happiness for Larry Flanagan, our own TESS columnist who has just been appointed general secretary of the EIS (page 7) and good luck to all of them. It's been a lively start to the year of the dragon.

Gillian Macdonald, Editor of the year (business and professional), gillian.macdonald@tess.co.uk.

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