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Committee hints at more federation of schools

Heads need to be given more flexibility in how they staff their schools if the quality of teaching and leadership is to be improved, according to the Scottish Parliament's education committee.

Its report this week, which examines local authority funding of education and school management, argues that only by giving heads this level of flexibility will they be able to provide "an appropriate level of challenge to staff" and bring the levels of performance of the poorest- performing departments in a secondary school, for example, up to the standards of the best-performing.

The committee, chaired by Labour MSP Karen Whitefield, does not offer any further insight on how it envisages heads should exercise this greater power, although it hints at greater "federation" of school management, linking stronger schools with weaker ones.

But it does make clear that there is little point in making structural changes to education unless they also improve the quality of teachers and education leaders.

"Government should promote the management arrangements for schools that would have the best chance of nurturing such continuous improvement, which would be, of course, in the ongoing best interests of children. The question that remains to be resolved is that of what the best system would be," it says.

Decisions about restructuring the management of schools cannot be taken until after the Scottish election in May.

The committee found "little appetite" for any of the more radical alternatives such as English academies, Swedish free schools or the US charter schools.

But it did find two major flaws in the current system:

- the difficulty for central government in ensuring its education priorities are delivered equitably and consistently across the country since local government is not directly accountable to ministers;

- although ministers are accountable for national policies, they are not accountable for their delivery locally, beyond initial funding of the agreed broad commitments of the concordat.

There is a predominance of fixed costs in education - national agreements on pay and conditions; national standards set by HMIE and the SQA, finds the report.

In many ways, the education and children's services provided by local authorities are national, which means "there may be genuine questions to be considered about what role local authorities should have in delivering what is, in many ways, a national education system".

A fundamental examination of local authority structures seems likely under the next Scottish Parliament.

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