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Can headteachers in Scotland's small schools cope with more powers?

Concerns raised about impact of Scottish reforms on headteachers who spend much of their working week teaching classes

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Concerns raised about impact of Scottish reforms on headteachers who spend much of their working week teaching classes

MSPs have highlighted concerns that headteachers in smaller and rural schools may not be able to cope with the extra powers coming their way.

As part of wide-ranging reforms, the Scottish government wants to give teachers greater responsibility for areas such as curriculum design and the recruitment of staff.

However, in a letter sent to education secretary John Swinney today, the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee warns that this reform will not work unless steps are taken to help schools that are less able to adapt.

After taking evidence on the government’s education reforms from hundreds of people, the committee advised Swinney that “the capacity of headteachers and their schools to absorb additional responsibilities will, of course, not be uniform across the country and there is a potential risk to effective implementation if the correct support is not provided”.

A “central question”, the committee added, was “whether the impact on different types of schools has been assessed, including smaller and larger schools, schools from different geographic areas and areas of different levels of deprivation, and of course between primary, secondary and special education schools”.

The role of Scottish headteachers

Headteachers and academics had told the committee that many heads in Scotland, particularly in primary schools, were teaching regularly: some are teaching heads and spend most of their time in the classroom, while others are plugging gaps caused by staff shortages.

The committee said it was “unclear how more responsibilities could be managed by teachers working in these circumstances”. It also questioned whether the new powers for headteachers would “unintentionally deter some teachers from seeking promotion to this level”.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “Our education reforms are focused on giving schools and headteachers more power and money to raise standards and close the attainment gap. They will deliver extra help for teachers in the classroom, more professional development and a stronger voice for parents and pupils.

“We also want headteachers to feel supported and empowered, which is why our recent consultation on the Education (Scotland) Bill sought views on the support they would need to be able to take forward their [Headteachers’ Charter] functions. We are currently considering the responses received.”

Tes Scotland reported last month that primary school leaders’ body the AHDS had broadly welcomed the plans to give heads in Scotland more power – although some are daunted at the prospect, with one describing it as “terrifying”. Teaching unions have warned that the proposals could see heads becoming overladen with HR and administration tasks.

In November, Tes reported the claims of schools minister Nick Gibb that greater autonomy for schools had freed teachers in England from being dictated to by education inspectorate Ofsted.

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