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December 2, 2009

Schools could be community owned

The Scottish government has broken its silence over the county’s controversial proposal of school trusts.

The Scottish government has broken its silence over the county’s controversial proposal of school trusts.

Education Minister Fiona Hyslop has admitted having major reservations about the English trust system, but has agreed with East Lothian Council’s vision for more “community empowerment”.

Ms Hyslop said the “model of trusts implemented in England has serious flaws”, and that Scottish education was “on the cusp of a new era”.

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning also admitted “this is a time of great change for Scottish education”, but fell short of giving the school’s trust plan her full backing.

As part of its major budget You Pay, Now Have Your Say consultation, East Lothian Council is asking its citizens to think about whether ‘educational trusts’ might be a logical development of devolved school management that makes sense for communities and the public purse. Other options include changes to staffing and increased use of composite classes.

In floating the option of educational trusts, the council is reflecting its view that schools should belong to their communities. There is evidence to suggest that community ‘ownership’ of schools can lead to significant improvements in the quality of educational outcomes – where it is managed effectively.  Community ownership would be enabled by the establishing of Community Learning Trusts within our communities, based on our local secondary schools and their associated primary schools.

All resources for the schools within the community would be devolved to the trusts. The setting up of Community Learning Trusts would help to make sure that public resources are directed to ‘frontline’ services.

If given the green light, the council will undertake further research and development activities, including organising an East Lothian Council conference on Community Based Management of Schools early in 2010.  The council would then establish a working group to research, refine and develop the proposal and engage in further consultation with key stakeholder groups. 

It would hope to submit a report to council in December 2010, outlining the scheme, an implementation strategy and appropriate financial, capital and human resource models. 

East Lothian Council Leader Dave Berry says:
‘There may be benefits in establishing educational trusts to deliver education on behalf of local communities. The purpose of the You Pay, You Have Your Say consultation is to make sure that everyone in East Lothian has the opportunity to take part in this very important conversation about what’s best for education and communities in East Lothian.’

Anyone wanting to take part in You Pay, Now Have Your Say discussion is encouraged to join the budget blog on the council’s web site, or get paper versions of the consultation documents from council offices or libraries and write to the council with their comments and ideas.