EIS calls on education authorities to merge

The EIS has become the latest voice to put pressure on councils and the Scottish Government to re-examine the structure of local authorities.

Today's announcement represents a change of stance by Scotland's biggest teaching union, which previously backed the current set-up of 32 councils. Its leaders now say a reduced number of merged education boards could be the way ahead.

General Secretary, Ronnie Smith, said the union was not looking to return to a system of regional councils but he did say: "It was probably a more rational structure than the one we have now. There are certain geographical ties between some local authorities."

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Earlier this year headteachers unions, the Association for Heads and Deputes in Scotland which represents primary leaders, and School Leaders Scotland, which represents secondary heads, supported a re-think of council structures.

Now the EIS says a move toward "dedicated education boards" is a model which warrants "serious consideration".

Mr Smith said: "We live in difficult economic times, and all public services face the challenge of how to continue to provide a high level of service in a more cost-effective manner.

"In this context, it is right that we ask questions about the need for 32 individual local authorities to deliver national education policy, operating schools and providing education for our young people. Applying economies of scale in certain functions such as administration, procurement, human resources and specialist support services could save a considerable amount of money and allow the vital front-line provision of learning and teaching to be protected."

Since devolution, the Scottish Parliament has had responsibiity for national education policies such as class sizes and the introduction of new school system A Curriculum for Excellence.

But it is Scotland's 32 local authorities who are responsible for the implementation of these policies at a local level in schools.

Isabel Hutton, education spokeswoman for council umbrella body, Cosla, described the EIS call as "sadly predictable", "gloomy" and "inaccurate".

She said: "There is a debate to be had about how the future shape of the public sector meets the financial challenge, but this sort of one dimensional, simplistic, off the shelf analysis will not get us very far."Unlike the EIS local authorities have the responsibility to consider how we deliver for everyone in our communities."

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Education secretary Michael Russell admitted the country faced "tough choices" about spending.

He said: "We need to prioritise and I want to be absolutely clear that frontline services should be protected by targeting reductions at bureaucracy that does not contribute directly to service delivery.

"The Scottish Government has no plans to reduce the number of local authorities, but I welcome Mr Smith's contribution to the debate and would be happy to discuss his suggestions with him."