On Friday East and Mid-lothian Councils met to discuss shared services, particularly in Education. The idea would not affect existing devolved school management but could lead to common central services, like psychological support and possibly even a common Head of Service. These talks are the most advanced in Scotland and yet there is no memorandum of understanding in place yet. However sensible sharing the service might be, any benefits will not be seen for years.
It may just be natural impatience but I find the pace at which public services re-organise themselves to be glacial. And, until the central element is resolved, there will be little appetite for a step function in schooling—the idea of ‘real’ community schools. Back in 2000, Labour introduced ‘new community schools’ but these were little more than regular schools with in-house social workers.
There may be valid reasons elsewhere why school clusters can’t operate as a unit but here in East Lothian, the logic is irrefutable. Each of the six high schools serves a town that is the civic centre of gravity of its catchment. For each of the six clusters to operate coherently, a ‘cluster’ council, pooling of budgets and unified management are necessary. Then 5-18 academic progress could be better harmonised, in itself smoothing primary-to-secondary transition. Then the opportunity to specialise in sports, in vocational and in more academic subjects: languages, arts or sciences could make each cluster a ‘magnet’.
Scotland invented the dominie-dominated one-room school and built its world-class presence on the results. Are clusters the 21st century equivalent of those beacons in the world’s dark ignorance, engaging ownership by parents and the whole local community? If so, the scale of the umbrella education authority becomes academic; it could be adjusted for maximum efficiency, provided the cluster offers maximum effectiveness.