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Heads’ desire for more control over funding prompts fears over financial and legal risks

Current system of financing Scottish schools has ‘shocking’ disparities, but report finds concerns about their ability to cope with reforms

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Current system of financing Scottish schools has ‘shocking’ disparities, but report finds concerns about their ability to cope with reforms

Plans to shake up school funding have exposed fears over the financial, legal and workload burdens that may shift to schools as headteachers take on more powers – as well as concerns that vulnerable pupils will fall between newly created cracks in the system.

Analysis for the Scottish government on responses to a consultation around “fair funding” for schools finds deep dissatisfaction among headteachers about current arrangements, which see large disparities in schools’ funding levels.

Figures shared exclusively with Tes Scotland show that in large secondaries in the Central Belt a headteacher’s devolved budget can vary by more than £1,000 per pupil.

There is also concern in the education system that headteachers are already overloaded. Heads warn that they would need “in-house” business managers if they are to take on more financial, HR and procurement responsibilities – but the financial cost of that may be prohibitive.

Excessive bureaucracy

Many headteachers see the current system of devolved school management (DSM) budgets as flawed, with excessive bureaucracy – stemming from multiple funding streams and “burdensome” procurement processes – “preventing headteachers from focusing on attainment within schools”.

There is widespread support for more control over staffing and educational resources. Some heads say “they would be able to find better deals, more quickly, themselves” if they were not reliant on local authority recruitment processes, and that some headteachers having more autonomy than others.

Jim Thewliss, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, told Tes Scotland that the current system of allocating money to schools leads to some “shocking” disparities.

“It would be fair to say, however, that there is a fairly common view that we could be doing things better and that we could be targeting resources more effectively,” says Thewliss, who represents secondary heads.

The report analyses 85 written submissions and six focus groups with headteachers. It considers the views of local authorities, class teachers, parents and others – with most concerned over the “risks” of giving schools more control of spending.

Funding pressure

Headteachers have repeatedly warned that, to take on more responsibility for spending and staffing, they would need full-time business managers to oversee issues not directly related to learning and teaching.

One unnamed council, however, says it would cost £2.1 million to provide a business manager in every school, or £360,000 for every school cluster – at a time when local education spending is under increasing pressure.

Some respondents argue that certain services would not be viable if provided at a school level, including areas around additional support needs (ASN), educational psychology and specialist staff training. There is also concern over the future of schools’ support for LGBT issues and English as an additional language.

The report highlights fears that leaving schools to manage such areas of spending “would be inefficient, affect existing budgets, and leave some schools at financial risk”.

Resisting change

Focus groups with headteachers raised concerns about legal risks: that “they would be accountable for events outside their control” such as decreasing pupil attainment caused by factors beyond the school gates. Many headteachers and teachers fear “coming under fire” from parents.

Local government organisation Cosla is resisting changes to the system of education spending, insisting that councils already “ensure that public money is spent efficiently and effectively”.

A Scottish government spokesman said: “Our education reforms are focused on giving schools and headteachers more power and money to raise standards and close the attainment gap. Our reform proposals are based on international evidence of how high-performing education systems work – and will deliver extra help for teachers in the classroom, more professional development and a stronger voice for parents and pupils.”

He adds: “We will give careful consideration to feedback on our consultations on fair funding and the Education (Scotland) Bill.”

This is an edited version of an article in the 9 March edition of Tes Scotland. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Tes Scotland magazine is available at all good newsagents

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