Fear over pro­posed ed­u­ca­tion re­forms

The Oban Times - - NEWS - MARK ENTWISTLE men­twistle@oban­times.co.uk

A SE­NIOR Lochaber coun­cil­lor has ex­pressed con­cern that pro­posed re­forms to the gov­er­nance of Scot­tish ed­u­ca­tion will pave the way for what he called a ‘raft of Soviet-style com­mis­sars’ de­cree­ing what will hap­pen in lo­cal schools.

An­drew Bax­ter, coun­cil­lor for Fort Wil­liam and Ard­na­mur­chan and chair­man of High­land Coun­cil’s Lochaber Area Com­mit­tee, flagged up his fears dur­ing the com­mit­tee’s dis­cus­sion last week on Scot­tish Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary’s John Swin­ney’s con­tro­ver­sial pro­pos­als.

Ear­lier this year, Mr Swin­ney, also Deputy First Min­is­ter, un­veiled pro­pos­als to set up ‘regional im­prove­ment col­lab­o­ra­tives’ aimed at pool­ing and strength­en­ing re­sources to sup­port learn­ing and teach­ing in schools.

This was to be part of a big­ger tranche of re­forms de­signed to tackle the at­tain­ment gap and im­prove stan­dards in schools. The col­lab­o­ra­tives were to be led by a regional direc­tor, who would re­port di­rectly to the chief in­spec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion.

But there was a back­lash from lo­cal author­ity um­brella group, COSLA, which slammed Mr Swin­ney’s pro­pos­als claim­ing they would se­verely dimnish mean­ing­ful lo­cal demo­cratic ac­count­abil­ity for ed­u­ca­tion in Scot­land.

And there were ac­cu­sa­tions it amounted to a cyn­i­cal ‘power grab’ by the gov­ern­ment and that the changes would side­line coun­cil of­fi­cials and lo­cal author­ity ed­u­ca­tion com­mit­tees.

The re­sult was talks with the gov­ern­ment which have re­sulted in an agree­ment that each lo­cal author­ity will have an in­put to one of six regional col­lab­o­ra­tives in part­ner­ship with Ed­u­ca­tion Scot­land.

It has been re­ported these col­lab­o­ra­tives will be ac­count­able to the col­lab­o­rat­ing lo­cal au­thor­i­ties as well as re­port­ing to the chief in­spec­tor.

But Mr Bax­ter re­mains un­con­vinced and told fel­low coun­cil­lors, in­clud­ing High­land Coun­cil leader Mar­garet David­son, who was present, that the roll of the coun­cil in lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion would be di­min­ished un­der the gov­ern­ment plans as they stand.

‘The gov­ern­ment pro­gramme seems to ac­tu­ally be more about dress­ing up the cen­tral­i­sa­tion of ed­u­ca­tion and then giv­ing the im­pres­sion of the de­vo­lu­tion of ed­u­ca­tion,’ said Mr Bax­ter.

‘It is al­most as if they were in­tend­ing a raft of Soviet-style com­mis­sars de­cree­ing what hap­pens in our schools. What­ever side of the po­lit­i­cal de­bate you are on, these needs to be dis­cussed at lo­cal level be­cause this is the big­gest fun­da­men­tal change to the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem for a gen­er­a­tion and it is only right it is dis­cussed at a lo­cal level.

‘And it is right to have the op­por­tu­nity to in­flu­ence Gov­ern­ment think­ing be­fore this goes through par­lia­ment.’

Mrs David­son told the meet­ing: ‘I think the devil will be in the de­tail. The real is­sues are about regional gov­er­nance and how at­tain­ment will be im­proved.’

She added: ‘Who head teach­ers will be re­port­ing to is still not clear. I’m all for col­lab­o­ra­tion but the last thing we need is hav­ing all roads lead­ing to Her Majesty’s In­spec­torate [of Ed­u­ca­tion] and the Deputy First Min­is­ter.’

Asked if he felt a bit more re­as­sured fol­low­ing news of Mr Swin­ney’s climb­down on some el­e­ments of the re­forms, Mr Bax­ter re­mained scep­ti­cal.

He told the Lochaber Times: ‘I’m wor­ried that we [lo­cal au­thor­i­ties] will be left with all the bits no-one else wants, such as ad­di­tional sup­port needs and Gaelic sup­port – the most ex­pen­sive bits. I’m still not con­vinced this [lat­est agree­ment with COSLA] isn’t any­thing more than a bit of win­dow dress­ing.’

Com­mit­tee mem­bers noted the coun­cil has agreed to work with the Gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing through bod­ies such as COSLA and the North­ern Al­liance, in a bid to in­flu­ence the pro­pos­als in a more pos­i­tive and con­struc­tive di­rec­tion.

Coun­cil­lors also agreed to seek view on the pro­pos­als through dis­cus­sions in their own com­mu­ni­ties, par­tic­u­larly through talks with par­ent coun­cils.

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