Autonomy: Sweeping new powers announced for Scottish schools

Headteachers will select their own staff and control 'a significantly increased proportion of school funding', says education secretary

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The Scottish government has announced a package of sweeping new powers for schools.

In a wide-ranging statement to the Scottish Parliament this afternoon, education secretary John Swinney also announced plans to reform the teaching watchdog, the General Teaching Council for Scotland, bringing it together with other professional development bodies in a new Education Workforce Council for Scotland. And he said that the Scottish College for Educational Leadership would be incorporated into inspection body Education Scotland.

Mr Swinney said he would place “a significantly increased proportion of school funding” in the hands of headteachers and that in the future heads would be free to select and manage the teachers and staff in their own schools.

He said that there must be “an approach to funding which ensures that control over resources for schools sits with schools” and that a consultation on the best model would be published today. However, he warned that he had ruled out the development of a fixed national funding formula.  

Headteachers would also have responsibility for raising attainment and closing the poverty-related gap in their school, he said, as well as deciding curriculum content, within a broad national framework.

A stronger voice for parents

The new powers – which follow the government's review of how schools should be run, which closed earlier this year after receiving over 1,000 responses – would be guaranteed in a statutory charter for headteachers, and young people and parents would also have a stronger voice in schools. In addition, every school would have access to a "home to school" link worker to support parents and families.

However, Mr Swinney rejected a proposal from parents – including those from St Joseph’s Primary in Milngavie – that they should be able to opt out of local authority control completely, because that would remove them from the “crucial support structure”.

Schools’ lead role in the reformed system would be backed by three pillars of support, said Mr Swinney:

  • Enhanced career and development opportunities for teachers, including continuing reform to initial teacher education;
  • New Regional Improvement Collaboratives to provide streamlined and strengthened support to teachers, including access to teams of attainment experts drawn from local authorities and Education Scotland;
  • Educational support service from local councils, including payroll and HR, and democratic accountability for the number of schools in an area and the selection of headteachers.

Mr Swinney, who has said reform is necessary due to Scottish pupils' declining performance in national and international assessments, said: “We will reform the system so that the key decisions in a child’s education are taken by schools.

“Schools will have the freedom to make their own decisions to improve learning and teaching. Everyone else within the education system will have a collective and shared responsibility to support schools.

“We will free teachers to teach. We will put new powers in the hands of headteachers. And we will all – government, councils and public bodies – support our schools.”

Responding to the announcement, the Scottish Conservatives' education spokeswoman, Liz Smith, welcomed the government’s decision to devolve more powers to schools, but said that the proposals did not go far enough.

Labour education spokesman Iain Gray, meanwhile, welcomed the end of Mr Swinney’s “flirtation with opt-out schools”.

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