COSLA chief urges government to rule out schools centralisation

6 Oct 16

Councils have urged Scottish Government ministers not to marginalise local government in running Scotland’s schools, warning that any centralisation of provision would lead to increased costs and less flexibility.

David O’Neill, president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, told the convention’s conference in Crieff: “There seems to be in Scotland a national view from both government and parliament of a fall-back position that when money is tight or when we wish to direct services to be effective and efficient, centralisation is the only answer.”

He drew a parallel with the Scottish National Party government’s controversial replacement of regionally-run police and emergency services with single national bodies. These reforms had “hardly been a roaring success,” O’Neill said. “We cannot allow that to happen in education.

O’Neill’s comments come as ministers review the governance of state schools, which are currently run by the 32 individual local authorities, with a potential view to replacing them with regional boards and devolving as much power as possible to individual schools.

As a precursor to wider reform, the Scottish government wants to spend £100m raised through increased council tax on closing the educational attainment gap between children from different socio-economic backgrounds, with the cash channelled directly to head teachers.

Cosla, which represents the majority of councils, has refused to endorse the plans, which some fear mark the start of a drive to shunt councils out of education, and possibly out of other areas of responsibility, and to centralise more power at Holyrood. Ministers insist that their aim is to decentralise power to schools and communities.

“School is not the problem. Education is not the problem. Councils have a good record in education, and are not the problem,” O’Neill said. “Poverty is the problem.

“Centralisation is the enemy of everything we stand for in local government, “ O’Neill, a long-serving Labour councillor, added. “It does not lead to efficiency and effectiveness, it leads to increased cost, inflexibility, an inability to respond to local requirements and lesser outcomes for communities.

“From what I saw in the [Scottish government’s] Programme for Government which was announced last month, there are several issues coming at us shortly which will pose all of us in this room with serious challenges in what we all want to achieve.”

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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