Scots see benefits of Westminster divorce

June 21, 1996

The establishment of a Scottish parliament could produce a new approach to running the education system, characterised by accountability and consensus.

This view emerged at a conference on "Education and a Scottish Parliament" organised last week by the Educational Institute of Scotland and the Scottish Constitutional Convention.

Labour peer Lord Sewel, vice principal of Aberdeen University, warned against replicating the same adversarial style of politics as Westminster, which he condemned as one of the most inefficient and ineffectual legislatures in the world.

A Scottish parliament should be characterised by committees which would test policy proposals against public opinion.

David Bleiman, assistant general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, called for the parliament to have a powerful committee for higher education and research, pointing out that they were a key growth sector and a leading export industry. It should oversee a reconstituted and publicly accountable higher education funding and planning body, representative of academic and professional interests and of the wider community including trade unions and business.

Mr Bleiman said education must have proper attention from the parliament, and escape the current "nonsense" of one Scottish Office minister covering education, housing and fisheries. "Scottish education is surely big enough to be the sole responsibility of one minister," he said.

Lindsay Paterson, chairman of educational policy at Moray House Institute of Education, said there were still tensions over subsidiarity, whether decisions on education should be taken by local government or the parliament. But he said the conference clearly endorsed three fundamental principles; that education was a public good, that it could be both utilitarian and for its own sake, and that it should be governed accountably.

There was a deep faith that this would engender consensus and partnership, since accountability forced all the stakeholders to understand one another.

Professor Paterson urged educationists to be more open-minded about employers, who were not the "reactionary neanderthals" some feared.

Employers had been among the most vociferous supporters of student-centred learning and a broad curriculum, recognising that the most effective employees were broadly educated and knew how to work with others.

Lord Sewel warned that Scottish education could not expect a spending bonanza under a Scottish parliament, and would have to fight its corner alongside other sectors such as social services, the health service and transport. It was therefore up to the education system to show that it provided value for money.

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