Swinney U-Turn means East Ren schools are ‘safe’, claims education chief

East Renfrewshire Council education convener Councilllor Paul O'Kane.
East Renfrewshire Council education convener Councilllor Paul O'Kane.

The Scottish Government’s cave-in on controversial plans to put a regional director in charge of local schools has been welcomed by East Ren’s education convener.

But local Conservative councillors remain deeply concerned at a watered-down “plan B” which still allows a deeply contentious “regional collaboration” scheme to go ahead.

Cabinet Secretary for Education John Swinney has been accused by Labour of presiding over an “omnishambles” after the latest attempt to reorganise Scotland’s schools came to grief on Friday.

Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: “This is humiliating for John Swinney.

“This is not an instance of one policy failure, but rather an omnishambles across the education portfolio.”

East Renfrewshire education convener Councillor Paul O’Kane said Mr Swinney’s U-Turn followed pressure from East Renfrewshire Council and COSLA - and that he has now accepted “a looser collaboration” between eight neigthbouring local authorities in the West of Scotland.

Plans for a Regional Director leading a Regional Board appointed by the Scottish Government and answerable to

Education Scotland have been summarily scrapped.

This removes at a stroke the perceived “threat” of what Tory councillors feared could be - as Newton Mearns South and Eaglesham councillor Jim Swift put it - “a numpty” Holyrood appointee riding roughshod over local education control.

However the bones of the collaboration scheme have survived, in a form more acceptable to local Labour councillors.

Councillor O’Kane said: “Along with my administration colleagues I have been arguing for this sensible approach, which keeps our schools in local hands, since the beginning of the Scottish Government’s education governance review.

“The same cannot be said of the Conservatives, who voted in the Scottish Parliament to support the review’ recommendations in the first place and have stated that they want to see schools taken out of local authority control altogether.”

He attacked what he argued were “sensationalist” and “nonsense” claims from Cllr Swift that the original SNP plan would have meant this would be the last term that local schools were under local control.

“The hypocrisy of the Tories on this issue is staggering”, he said.

“Instead of supporting our efforts to protect our local schools they were arguing in the Scottish Parliament for the reforms to go even further.

“Whilst we were working to find a solution that allowed for collaboration whilst retaining control of our local schools, the Tories were playing politics.

He asserted: “Decisions about East Renfrewshire schools will be taken in East Renfrewshire by locally elected councillors - informed as always by the views of parents, pupils and staff.

“Where appropriate we will collaborate on issues of importance across the Glasgow City Region such as college

courses, apprenticeships, training of early years staff and developing the young workforce.

“I know that this is what local people want in order to ensure that we achieve for all of our children and young people and keep our local schools the best in the country.

“We will always stand up for our local schools.”

However for the Conservatives the SNP debacle is a battle half won - because they do not want to see top-performing East Ren enmeshed in what they fear could become a highly politicised quango run by appointees from a welter of other authorities.

They argue the various City Region councils are already “collaborating” in ways which do not risk such hypothetical problems developing - as confirmed, they say, by education director Mhairi Shaw.

They see little benefit in superimposing what’s seen as a new layer of control over East Ren, whose stellar education record has been achieved independent of authorities such as Glasgow.

The Tories also see the whole scheme as a further example of an SNP obsession with centralisation - and as a form of “control freakery” that could put at risk the education successes East Ren has achieved.

Last week the council saw off the Tory bid to scupper the entire “collaboration” process by a single vote, but the Conservatives argue pressure from worried local parents will ensure it remains a live issue.

Meanwhile Mr Swinney has said he looks forward to national and local government working together “at pace” on his revised reforms – with support and expertise from Education Scotland.